This is by far one of the strangest weeks in the history of The Root Presidential Black Power Rankings. We had a mutiny within our committee, we had a special guest analyst who is just brilliant, and we had half a dozen major events occur this week that scrambled the rankings like an old-school Etch A Sketch. Buckle your seatbelts, everyone.
First, our special guest analyst of the week is Elie Mystal; you might recognize him from the brilliant Above the Law blog (which you should totally read; it’s The Root’s flavor with smart legal people); he’s also a 2019 Root 100 honoree and the guy with the big hair in perpetual rage on MSNBC. We brought Elie in because the new session of the Supreme Court starts next week and we had the Amber Guyger ruling, so a legal expert breaking down which 2020 candidates are best for black folks when it comes to law and justice is just what the doctor (me, The Root’s politics editor, Dr. Jason Johnson) ordered.
Then we had our mutiny; Marcus Ferrell (former African-American outreach director for Sanders 2016, and senior adviser for Swing Left) decided to sit out this week. In the wake of Guyger getting a shorter sentence than black and brown folks get for warning shots, driving with a suspended license or stealing fajitas (seriously) and then getting hugs and kisses from black court officials, he’d had enough:
Most campaigns have not said shit about police violence. Until I see a major shift in the understanding of black culture and a willingness in each of these campaigns to talk about police brutality and push for real reform I leave the whole rankings blank this week in protest. Except for Bernie and Castro, who are the ONLY ones who’ve said anything real about the issue.
So as you can see, it’s been an interesting week. This week’s big riser is Julian Castro, jumping up a full seven spots. This week’s big loser is Joe Biden, who drops eight. We also saw the return of Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer’s two-week run on the rankings came to an end.
How do you rank a campaign’s Black Power? Well, we have our “FLEX” rating, aka:
- Finances: Are you paying black staff, advertisers, consultants?
- Legislation: What legislation are you pushing or have passed for black people?
- External Polling: No matter how good you are for black people, if your poll numbers are terrible we can’t rank you that high!
- X-Factor: What’s your rhetoric like? How do you handle a crisis or the kinds of events and scandals that directly impact black lives?
#1: Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro
Obviously, Castro got Mr. Ferrell’s vote this week, but overall, he really did stand out by calling for accountability with the Guyger case and pushing out a strong labor rights package right before the next debate in Ohio.
According to our special guest Elie Mystal: “I actually think Julian Castro’s criminal justice reform plan is the best in the race. It’s similar but slightly more comprehensive than either Booker’s or Harris’, whose plans are also very good. The problem is that I don’t see how he implements it. To reach his comprehensive goals, he’s got to get state police forces to buy-in. A better plan would be to attack criminal justice and police brutality through the courts. But Castro doesn’t have a plan for that. He is not going to get anything done on criminal justice reform if five conservative justices are there to block him at every turn. I don’t know if he knows that.”
Castro is still languishing in the polls and struggling to raise money and even got left out of SNL’s debate sketch last weekend. However, in a week where black America is hurting, he takes the top spot for having what might be the best plan to do something about rampant police violence, on- and off-duty.
#2: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Mayor Pete is starting to flex a little; he raised $19 million in the third quarter and is starting to poke out his chest at a few rivals. He’s still hovering around 5 percent nationally and still doing terribly with black voters in the polls. But he was on fire this week policy-wise. He spoke out in favor of net neutrality, which might be one of the most important tools black folks have in our protest movements. He even came out in favor of the HBCU settlement case going on in Maryland right now, which few other candidates have even mentioned (*ahem* Sen. Harris, whose headquarters is in Baltimore). Mystal points out that Mayor Pete has been talking about the importance of the courts’ system to protect minority rights since he started his campaign.
EM: “If there is one Democratic candidate who we know cares about the court and who is committed to the radical change that needs to happen to the court to counteract its capture by Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, that candidate is Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg gets all that. And he gets that one of the reforms includes having more diverse representation on the bench. Just this week, Buttigieg explicitly tied funding HCBUs to their contributions in making the next generation of black judges. Buttigieg gets it when it comes to the third branch of government.
#3: Sen. Elizabeth Warren
*Whew* There was a lot of back and forth with Elizabeth Warren this week. There was an internal shakeup among black staff in the campaign, but it was ultimately for the best. She’s doing better with black voters but still trails Joe Biden. She’s making all the right enemies—Wall Street, and now Facebook—but stayed silent about Harvard’s big victory in defending affirmative action this week (Warren was a Harvard law professor; why so quiet?) She’s at only 4 percent with black voters in South Carolina (pdf) in one poll and 12th among Democratic candidates when it comes to visiting the state. In other words, Warren stays put in a week when she didn’t do anything wrong or incredibly right for black voters. We do give her credit for reading the Power Rankings, though. After we pointed out that she had made no statement on the FUTURE Act on funding minority-serving institutions, she shot out a tweet. We see you, Senator!
#4: Sen. Kamala Harris
Sen. Harris got a boost this week and jumps up one spot in our rankings. First, she won SNL, and it doesn’t matter if you like the show or not (and I’m real “meh” on them since that great cast with Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and Cheri Oteri left), every candidate wants a funny impression on Saturday Night Live (just ask Julian Castro). Harris also got great numbers out of South Carolina; she’s still in fourth, but she’s polling second with black voters at 10 percent. She raised $11 million in the last quarter, so she won’t be throwing any champagne campaign parties in Iowa but she’s got enough to not go poor-mouthing to donors before the year is out. We won’t hold it against her that her campaign has had yet another major shakeup because she balanced that out with a Time magazine cover. (Wait, do magazine covers even matter in the digital age?) She also went HAM on the Comcast Supreme Court discrimination case (more on that later).
#5: Sen. Cory Booker
Mama, we made it! That’s right; Cory Booker’s mad dash for cash panned out as his campaign raised just under the $2 million he needed in order to stay competitive in the 2020 race. The committee knows this happened through hard work, but can’t shake the idea that he was locked away in a Brick City basement going through as many daily lotto scratch-off cards as he could find. Even if Booker’s fingers aren’t covered in silver dust, if we docked for poor fundraising numbers, we gotta give it up for him raising $6 million this quarter. Booker pledged to cut child poverty by two-thirds, and let’s just keep it 100—that’s a targeted black policy; 32 percent of African-American children live in poverty, higher than any other racial group in this country. For that alone, Booker was going to move up. Elie Mystal lays out Booker’s (and Harris’) biggest move this week, which has to do with a major SCOTUS case in November.
EM: “And then there’s Comcast. Booker and Harris get a major bump this week for adding their names to a Supreme Court brief, urging the court to reject Comcast’s Confederate interpretation of the Civil Rights Act. Not the Civil Rights Act of 1964, no, Comcast is arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 should be reinterpreted to make things easier for white people, because, you know, those Reconstruction Era blacks had it so easy.
“Comcast argues that it just wants a “minor” and “technical” change to something called “Section 1981.” Section 1981 is the part of the U.S. code that allows people to sue for racial or ethnic discrimination—which was kind of important if you are black! Comcast wants to make it much harder for people to use this law and make it much easier for courts to dismiss claims of racial discrimination. It’s not minor, it’s not technical, it’s horrible and destructive to the proposition of equal justice under the law.
“Given the current conservative make-up of the court, Comcast will likely win. But given the fact that Comcast owns (ahem) lots of media, two presidential candidates taking it right to Comcast and calling them out for their racially disastrous legal arguments deserve major, major props.”
#6: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke
The committee is pretty down on Beto this week, so he drops two spots. He’s polling third in his home state of Texas, he’s only got 2 percent of the black vote in South Carolina and he threatened a kitten for money. Beto, you’re scaring us. But before the committee goes full ether, Elie Mystal is gonna grab the mic because he was fairly high on this week’s version of Beto.
EM: “So, what actually happened in the news this week? Well, a white cop who murdered a black person actually got convicted for *checks notes* murder. Look, I’m as shocked as anybody that a cop was actually held accountable for murdering an unarmed black person.
“You know who noted the shocking news that white people could be held accountable? Beto! He also noted that Georgia’s draconian anti-abortion bill has been blocked.”
It’s worth noting that Georgia has the worst maternal mortality rate for black women in the United States, so any bill that restricts access to medical options for pregnant women in Georgia is almost a death sentence. Maybe Woke Beto from a few weeks ago will make a return, but these terrible polling numbers have got to change.
#7: Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Amy Klobuchar is polling at zero percent with black voters in South Carolina, which means she’s about as popular with black folks as that one cousin who always brings flat warm soda to the cookout. But sources say she’s making moves in South Carolina. When the news reported Donald Trump’s plans to build a Dr. Evil-style “border moat” with snakes, alligators and sharks with laser beams on their heads, she cut through the BS and just called it racist. (Either that, or Trump bases his plans off of Atari 2600 Pitfall). Elie Mystal also gives Klobuchar credit for being on the Judiciary Committee and actually knowing what it takes to work through judges to get things done. That earns her a new spot in the rankings after a couple of weeks in the Phantom Zone.
#8: Businessman Andrew Yang
Do you know who really likes Andrew Yang? Black athletes. His staff reports Marcellus Wiley and Dominique Wilkins as some of his biggest surrogates. Yang has made a serious push in South Carolina this week, empowered his political director, Jermaine Johnson, to provide the campaign with real guidance on how to address black voters. And one of his biggest campaign policies—that college athletes should be allowed to earn money—was passed into law this week in California, something that will most definitely help hundreds of black football and basketball players who work on the NCAA plantation for a flimsy diploma and a one-in-a-million chance to make it to the big leagues.
#9: Former Vice President Joe Biden
What kind of Supreme Court justice would Joe Biden nominate? It sounds like a terrible knock-knock joke that your 9-year-old cousin comes up with after a particular rousing homeroom civics class, and yet it’s relevant as we stare down the barrel of a new SCOTUS session that could fundamentally alter everything in American life over the next two decades. According to Elie Mystal, the answer to the riddle is nothing. Nothing good.
EM: “Biden is the anti-Buttigieg when it comes to the courts. He’s not for court-packing. He’s not for doing anything different in terms of what kind of people he nominates. He just wants things to go back to normal. But things aren’t normal, Joe. Neil Gorsuch is illegitimate; Brett Kavanaugh has been credibly accused of attempted rape.
“And then there’s Clarence Thomas. He remembers how his Senate Judiciary Committee treated Clarence Thomas’ accuser, Anita Hill. Joe Biden has no credibility when it comes to the courts.”
Biden also only raised $15 mil in the third quarter, which is lower than Sanders ($25 million), Warren ($24.9 million), and Mayor Pete ($19 million), which is not a good sign for a frontrunner. Woody Harrelson’s Biden impression on SNL was fantastic, but any and all Corn Pop jokes on SNL should send a royalty check to The Root’s Michael Harriot and his viral tweet story. Biden was bound to drop because this week: he didn’t roll out much new policy; the committee isn’t focusing heavily on impeachment and his biggest accomplishment is Donald Trump asking everybody from the Chinese to the Russians, Hydra, Cobra and Dr. Who to investigate Biden and his family.
#10: Sen. Bernie Sanders
EM: “This feels like a good time to mention that African-Americans suffer from the highest rates of heart disease in this country. Hypertension stalks us like a wolf in the night. Bernie needs to take care of himself, and we all need to remember to practice a little self-care. Get better soon, Sen. Sanders.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. This was a rough week in ranking Sen. Sanders. Sanders raised a ridiculous amount of money ($25 million last quarter) yet he’s delaying ad buys in Iowa. He is also no longer leading in any of the first four nominating states. Committee member Marcus Ferrell considered him one of only two candidates even worth ranking this week because of his criminal justice record. Yet our special judge Elie Mystal says Sanders is one of the worst candidates when it comes to any type of substantive court reform (which is totally necessary to make the kind of revolutionary changes Sanders wants). For other committee members, the elephant in the room is Sen. Sanders’ health and the fact that while his campaign announced that he will participate in the October debate, he’s still off the campaign trail for now, and if you’re not on the trail, then we have to put you last. On behalf of the whole Power Rankings committee, we wish the senator a speedy recovery back.