Who’s on Top? The Root’s 2020 Presidential Black Power Rankings, Week 1

Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images)

Welcome to The Root’s Black Power Rankings, where we assess the eleventy-billion Democrats currently running for the chance to face off against Donald Trump for the presidency. Every single candidate running right now knows they need to win black voters to have a chance at the Democratic nomination. Yet how does a campaign know how they’re faring with African Americans when time after time we’ve seen these polls ain’t loyal when it comes to the black vote?

As a service to our readers and the entire NCAA bracket sized slate of Democratic candidates, The Root is dropping our own Black Power Ranking of where the 2020 contenders stand with black voters. Think of it like those weekly power rankings for NFL or NBA teams, but without all the racism and statistics.

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We will have a rotating panel of experts and judges, including consultants, former candidates, and campaign insiders, curated by The Root’s own political editor, Dr. Jason Johnson (yours truly). This week our special guest expert is Marcus Ferrell, the former head of African-American outreach for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign.

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?

Roll out a good policy that directly improves the lives of African Americans? You jump up three spots. Your campaign contacts The Root saying you’re about to do a $100,000 ad buy with black radio in Texas? You go up five spots. Get caught wearing a Klan outfit in a college yearbook? You might drop off the list.

So, without further ado, here are this week’s top 10 rankings:

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#1: Sen. Kamala Harris

All of our judges had Harris ranked first or second for our Week 1 ranking, despite serious misgivings just a few weeks ago. Harris’s initiative to organize on HBCU campuses means money, training and campaign experience for black students in 2020. Her speech at the South Carolina Democratic Convention last week was the best she’s ever given. Lastly, she marched into the convention with a drumline from Lower Richland High School and thanked all the marchers. And managed to keep on rhythm. That’s a good week.

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#2: Sen. Cory Booker

A week ago Booker would’ve barely broken the Top 10 on our Black Power Rankings but a good week has him back in the running. His speech during the reparations hearings was passionate, sincere and showed his commitment to HB 40. He gave the best short speech at Rep. James Clyburn’s South Carolina fish fry on Friday and had a huge team on the ground. Booker was one of the first candidates to take it to former Vice President Joe Biden after his “very civil people” comment about Southern segregationists. This new spicy Cory Booker just might have a chance at this nomination.

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#3: Former Vice President Joe Biden

Amongst our judges, ranking Biden was up there with a very contentious game of bid whist, an intense outdoor pick-up basketball game in 80-degree South Carolina heat, and a Thanksgiving all-night-long game of Black Card Revoked. Some had him as high as 2. Others, at 7. Biden’s white-splaining of his chummy relationship with segregationists dropped him several spots. However, his ability to bring out Reps. James Clyburn and John Lewis to his defense either means he’s got a lot of juice with the black community or he’s already in trouble and had to bring out the big guns early. (Shouldn’t you save John Lewis for defending your pro-segregationist busing policies or something?) Despite a sizable lead in the national polls, Joe Biden starts our rankings on thin ice.

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#4: Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Warren has been a steady mover for weeks prior to this Week 1 ranking. Her policies specifically targeting black women for maternal mortality, tackling the racial wealth gap and housing discrimination all justify her high ranking. She had a lot of staff on the ground in South Carolina, but her speech to the delegates was not nearly as impressive as some of her previous outings. She’s still in the Top 5, but I’m sure she’s got a plan to jump up a few. spots.

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#5: Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders put his sizable Twitter influence and campaign behind 92-year-old Texas activist Opal Lee, who has been pushing to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Not only does this show Sanders taking an interest in local activism in a non-key primary state, but while other candidates just tweeted about Juneteenth, he pushed for policy. And he has finally begrudgingly backed HB 40, the reparations study bill.

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#6: Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro

Julian Castro has a black woman (Maya Rupert) running his campaign; he came out strong for reparations; he is the only candidate to come out with a comprehensive plan to reform American policing as a profession. If he were doing better in the polls we’d rank him higher, as our judges wonder why he doesn’t get more attention.

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#7: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke

There was a lot of back and forth about Beto in the rankings. On the one hand, he’s never said anything wrong when it comes to black people; this is a man who was arguing for NFL players’ right to kneel while running for the Senate in Texas last year, right in Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ backyard. He met with voting rights activist groups like the New Georgia Project this month, but we can’t rank him higher because so far, he’s got nothing to back up his rhetoric. Still, he might get a bump after the debates.

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#8: Mayor Pete Buttigieg

It seems like about half the black population of South Bend, Ind., is done with Mayor Pete as a staff, label, and organization after the shooting of a black man, Eric Logan, by South Bend police. The viral clips of Mayor Pete telling a black woman protesting that he’s “not asking for your vote,” and his stilted deer in headlights performance at the subsequent town halls didn’t do him any favors, either. Mayor Pete needs more people. Is the Buttigieg campaign dead? No, he’s got good black staff and he rolled out some decent policy targeting racial inequality recently. However, for a Democratic candidate to literally be polling worse than Donald Trump amongst a segment of black voters and then have a police shooting scandal? His black voter ceiling just got a lot lower.

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#9: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

“Why you catching strays from someone else’s shots?” said one of our judges. Tulsi Gabbard was minding her own business hovering along at a less than respectable 1 percent amongst Democrats, then she decided to go all Stephen from Django. First, she comes out defending Joe Biden’s comments, and worse, uses the groan-inducing “as a person of color” shield as if that somehow gives her a day pass to talk about black people’s feelings. Next, it was revealed this week that Gabbard was actually being vetted to be head of Veteran’s Affairs for the Trump administration. She was the only Democrat on a list including such luminaries as Dr. Ben Carson and pro-white suburbanite Laura Ingraham. The only reason Gabbard isn’t out of the top 10 is that she’s an actual co-sponsor of HB 40.

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#10: “Spiritual Guru” Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson advocates a $100 billion dollar reparations fund for black people. She could be polling lower than Barack Obama at a Proud Boys convention and she’s going to make our power rankings.

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