Here’s How 2020’s Top Candidates Stack Up on Race

Kaitlin Joshua


On September 12, 10 candidates will take the debate stage for the third time to talk health care, climate change, and several other issues important to Americans today. For Black Americans, who have been historically left out of political debates and policy discussions, voting is important. For candidates, the way they talk about race can determine who will win over a significant portion of the voting block. Here’s how the top five candidates stack up on racial issues.


#1: JOE BIDEN The clear front-runner for the 2020 race, former Vice President Biden has presented a criminal justice reform plan that specifically mentions Black Americans. However, Biden’s plan mentions no specifics. Still, Biden is enjoying high poll numbers from Black Americans, and likely benefits from the name-recognition and positive associations with the Obama era. However, he still hasn’t escaped critique for his long record. Fellow candidate Senator Kamala Harris called out his record on busing during the first debate, and Biden had to publicly apologize celebrating his ability to work alongside segregationists. Still, Biden hangs in the lead in large part due to the consistent support of Black voters. Though Biden may not be drawing large support from younger Black voters, his base is solid. Maintaining his lead among Black voters will be up to Biden’s ability to avoid similar flubs in the future.


#2: ELIZABETH WARREN The Senator from Massachusetts has become well known for her ability to seemingly always have a plan, and she doesn’t fall short when it comes to race. Important to me in particular is her specific mention of maternal mortality, and how it is directly tied to race. In an opinion piece published exclusively in Essence, Warren talks about her new maternal health model, one that will specifically address racial disparities. Warren’s emphasis on specific plans shows her dedication to using data and facts to solve problems rather than relying on rhetoric. Though Warren has average polling numbers among Black voters, she still stands to gain more support in the coming months.


#3: BERNIE SANDERS The Vermont Senator’s makes Racial Justice a stand-alone issue on his website, opening his plan with the line “It’s time to treat structural racism with the exigency it deserves.” Sanders’ plans address voting rights and enfranchisement, criminal and environmental justice, and health disparities, specifically mentioning hot-button issues like Flint, redlining, and the Voting Rights Act. In a particularly impactful line, Sanders’s campaign lists the full names of several Black Americans whose lives have been lost to police violence. Similarly to Warren Sanders is very specific about the goals he has for racial justice.


#4: KAMALA HARRIS “I would like to speak on the issue of race,” the freshman California Senator said this past June during the second night of the first round of debates. Though Harris, one of two Black candidates alongside New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, has a more obvious connection to race, her record has not gleaned her the success her campaign was surely vying for. Harris has faced extensive online backlash record as a prosecutor, and her reputation as a “cop” has been reduced to comedic fodder and Twitter memes calling for various users to be “locked up.” For activists and community stakeholders concerned about criminal justice in their communities, her “tough on crime” policies are troubling.

However, Harris has certainly been proactive about making her stance on racial justice in America known. Her website describes plans to address economic justice as the foremost reason American has yet to eliminate racial inequalities. Harris specifically touts her LIFT Act, which would cut taxes for working Americans, and increased support for HBCUs and other Minority-Serving Institutions. Despite criticism, Harris’s moment during the first debate and her own HBCU attendance have served her well. An estimated 20% of Black Democrats are “enthusiastic” about her presidential bid, putting her behind only Biden and Sanders. Though Senator Harris’s record is likely to follow her into the next set of debates, she has a solid standing.


#5: PETE BUTTIGIEG “Mayor Pete” has polled relatively low with Black voters and the results of June study conducted by the Black Economic Alliance estimates that about 21% of Black American Democrats feel enthusiastic or comfortable about Buttigieg. A whopping 76% of Black American Democrats felt the same way of Biden. The numbers are unsurprising: Buttigieg has already faced extensive criticism from South Bend’s Black residents over his failure to truly integrate a 90% white police force in a 27% Black city, as well as his “clumsy” handling of the June shooting of Black resident by a white police officer. Community leaders’ assertions that Buttigieg’s economic policies have historically left Black residents behind certainly weaken his proclaimed commitment to criminal justice reform.

The South Bend, Indiana Mayor does offer a comprehensive, straightforward plan to address racial justice in America. Buttigieg cites his “The Douglass Plan” as the answer to problematic and discriminatory criminal justice and healthcare systems. The plan is centered on creating true equity for Black Americans. While Buttigieg’s plans look good on paper, his ability to effectively articulate what went wrong as Mayor and what will be better as President will prove essential in gaining a larger share of the Black vote in 2020.


Though the 2020 Election is still several months away, the recent race drop-outs make this third debate all the more crucial for determining who will get it right on race in the future. Join New Dawn for a Debate Watch Party on Thursday, September 12 at 7pm in BCC Auditorium!


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