Illustration: Elena Scotti (Getty Images)
This week’s Root 2020 Presidential Black Power Rankings is full of surprises. We have a new No. 1 after several candidates forgot that black people still matter, and a special guest power-ranking judge. This week, me (Dr. Jason Johnson, Politics Editor at The Root) and Marcus Ferrell, former African American Outreach Director for Bernie Sanders 2016, are joined by Miss Alicia Garza! Garza is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Black Futures Lab and the Black Census Project. The Black Census Project is one of the most extensive and detailed surveys of African Americans in modern history and a foundation for some of the 2020 candidate’s policy proposals. In other words, when Gen X becomes senior citizens there will be pictures of Alicia Garza next to the Obama’s Christmas photo hanging in all of our living rooms above the plastic covered couch. We’re honored to have her this week!
This week’s Black Power Rankings focus on African-American women. Why? Because last weekend was the 25th anniversary of the Essence Festival in New Orleans, one of the biggest, most influential annual gatherings of black women in America (they even made a movie about it!). Essence Fest is basically a mandatory visit for Democratic candidates at this point (even Mother Jones knows it) right up there with eating fried Twinkies at the Iowa State Fair, shilling for cash, and invoking Stacey Abrams name like a magic chant.
Since black women are the most important voting bloc of the modern Democratic Party, we decided that any candidate who left Essence Fest on read, and didn’t show up, send a video, DM or smoke signal couldn’t be in our top 3. Therefore, we had some big shifts this week. As usual, here is our methodology for rankings.
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?
This week’s big riser? Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke storms up five spots to land in the top 5 for the first time. Biggest loser? Bernie Sanders drops three spots after not showing up at Essence Fest and not rolling out any new policy targeted at black voters. Sorry you can’t take a week off from black folks Bernie, we’ll notice. We also have a first-time appearance on our Black Power Rankings by California Rep. Eric Swalwell, but it’s going to be a short stay. Without further ado, The Root 2020 Presidential Week 3 Power Rankings!
#1: Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren was the unanimous pick for the top spot this week. She killed it at the National Education Conference Forum in Houston, then followed up with a decent speech at Essence Fest. Why does this matter to black people? Because next to the federal government, the education system is one of the largest employers of black women in America, whether as teachers, janitors or lunch ladies. Warren basically spent all weekend talking to black women.
“[Warren] dropped yet another plan to improve the quality of life of black women, this time focused on executive orders to end racial bias with federal contractors (the federal government is a major employer of black people—special shoutout to this campaign because they did their due diligence in getting feedback from black people and black organizations, like ours),” said Garza.
Lastly, the Warren campaign is flush with cash. Her second-quarter campaign haul? A whopping $19 million from over 384,000 donors. That’s almost 100,000 more donors than the next closest Democrat (Mayor Pete, who had 294,000 donors), and she raised more than Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.
#2: Sen. Kamala Harris
You hear that loud beep beep sound? That’s the sound of Sen. Kamala Harris backtracking on her busing position after ethering Joe Biden on the issue during the first debate. Now Harris says busing should be a “local” issue, not necessarily a federal mandate, essentially parroting what the former vice president stumbled to explain in the debate. Not only is this a total cop-out, Harris’ vigorous attack on busing now looks more like performance than principle. Her new housing plan for black families is a decent idea, and it might fix our credit scores. However, homes aren’t always the best wealth generator for low-income families who are often burdened by upkeep and repairs.
Given the senator’s own actions during the housing crisis, who knows if a Harris administration would commit to the followup needed for all these new black homeowners anyway? Finally, Harris’ second quarter fundraising was just abysmal. If you’re going to take all that Wall Street money, then you better get in their pockets. Harris only raised $12 million, $2 million of which was in the hours after the second debate. If it weren’t for her National Education Association speech and Essence Fest, Harris would’ve fallen even lower on our list.
#3: Sen. Cory Booker
“The baby bonds thing is cool but not pressing,” said Garza. The committee agrees, that Booker’s proposed government-sponsored savings account for all kids based on family income is the kind of sneaky race neutral program that actually helps cut the wealth gap between blacks and whites in America and it’s worth a move up. It’s not bold, but shows that Booker is trying. His speech at Essence Fest was like a standup comedian desperately trying to get the crowd’s attention, but unlike Harris, at least Booker didn’t back up on busing.
#4: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke
You’ve got to give him credit, Beto O’Rourke is not giving up without a fight. He spoke at the NEA and Essence Fest last weekend and focused on voter ID laws as well as the disproportionate impact of school punishment on black children. Every 2020 contender finds excuses to talk up Stacey Abrams (Beto is no different) but at Essence Fest, he also pointed to how his GOTV efforts in Texas helped put a record 17 black women on the bench in the state. That’s worth a big jump in our rankings. Now let’s see if he can stay there.
#5: Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro
Castro didn’t even make the top 10 for Alicia Garza’s list, but on the strength of his previous weeks, he managed to stay in the top five . He spoke at NEA but not Essence Fest, and while Kamala Harris rolled out a policy to put black people into homes this week, it might behoove the former HUD secretary to explain some of his own side steps when it came to fair housing in his home state of Texas. We see you, Julian.
#6: Former Vice President Joe Biden
Let’s get this straight: Biden gets bodied by a black woman at the first Democratic debates and then doesn’t even show up at Essence Fest?
“Bruh—YOU AIN’T EVEN SHOWED UP THO?!?!?” Garza emailed in all caps in exasperated black, a special font we use at The Root. This led to a bevy of #Facts and #NoLiesDetected texts and responses from other analysts.
Biden moves up one spot for finally apologizing for his busing gaffe, but whether that was due to a true understanding or dropping in the polls remains to be seen. At some point we’re going to stop grading him on the Obama curve.
#7: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Our committee has a question for the Mayor Pete campaign: How do you raise $24 million from 294,000 people yet still poll at 0 percent with black voters? Not one black person accidentally clicked Mayor Pete on a poll in the last three weeks? As for Mayor Pete’s policy rollouts at Essence Fest?
“He’s trying to Taylor Swift this whole thing,” says Garza. “I mean first, stop naming your plans after military exercises, next, his CJ Walker [Reginald Lewis] Plan sounds a lot like his Douglass Plan that he rolled out in South Carolina the week before. I was there.”
Ouch. The South Bend, Ind., mayor gets some credit for publicly shutting down a racist blogger at a campaign event, so he only drops one spot.
#8: Sen. Bernie Sanders
What are you doing Bernie Sanders? This past week he was outraised by Elizabeth Warren and she had more individual donors than Bernie (remember when that was his claim to fame?) Moreover, “Bernie Sanders has a real black woman problem” says Garza, so Sanders skipping out on Essence Fest wasn’t a good look, either. Warren and Harris have taken his corners and if he’s not careful these campaign streets may forget his name real soon.
#9: “Spiritual Guru” Marianne Williamson
You know how Marianne Williamson has made our Black Power Rankings each week? Reparations. You know how she’s going to drop out of our rankings? A flood of white tears. After NOT showing up to Essence Fest, Williamson had the Barbecue Beckiest of moments and sent a sternly worded letter complaining that she hadn’t BEEN INVITED. Look, Marianne—may we call you that? “Girlfriend,” you’re running for president, you don’t NEED an invitation to talk to voters. Show up and get it done. I’m getting annoyed just typing this; next week she may drop off the rankings entirely.
#10: Rep. Eric Swalwell
Thank you, Eric Swalwell for being the first candidate to drop out of the nomination. You’ve given us one less person to cover. (Perhaps he read my “Sooooo Many White Guys” column, too.)