The Democratic Party knows it needs the energetic support of black voters to win the 2020 presidential election. Near the end of last night’s debate in Atlanta, the question that arose—indirectly but unmistakably—was whether it needs a black candidate to turn them out.
The candidate who has surged into the lead in recent polls of Iowa and New Hampshire, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, has registered virtually zero support among African American voters. The candidates he overtook, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, don’t have a whole lot more. And the candidate who does have the most support among black Democrats, former Vice President Joe Biden, has a decades-long record on criminal-justice policies and school busing that is out of step with the views of many black voters, especially young ones.
So it was left to the two black candidates onstage last night, Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, to warn their fellow candidates—and voters watching at home—that they take black voters, and especially black women, for granted at their peril. The issue came up initially when Harris was asked about her criticism of Buttigieg’s campaign after it published a stock photo of two black people who were from Kenya, not the United States. Harris declined to re-litigate that mini controversy, instead using the moment to bring up the Democratic Party’s historic neglect of black women. “The larger issue,” she said, “is that for too long, I think candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party. And have overlooked those constituencies. And they show up when it’s, you know, close to election time, and show up in a black church and want to get the vote but just haven’t been there before.”