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This Primary’s Real Loser Is Diversity

2020 is showing us why the push to end presidential campaigns before significant numbers of voters who aren’t white even get to vote must end now

Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Bernie SandersFourth 2020 Democratic Party Presidential Debate, Westerville, Ohio, USA - 15 Oct 2019

Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders at the fourth 2020 Democratic Party presidential debate in Westerville, Ohio

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It shouldn’t be difficult to determine who is winning this. Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who has shown the ability thus far to form any kind of firm base within the Democratic electorate — younger voters who may find him personally popular even more so than a platform that Republicans are counting on to scare a more moderate American electorate. That last part may be why political intelligentsia seems to be having a devil of a time with this race. The way that CNN and MSNBC covered Sanders’s narrow New Hampshire primary win, you would have thought that perhaps second- and third-place finishers Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar had combined to form some version of the comic-book character Firestorm, a fusion of two centrists whose powers are ridiculing free-tuition proposals and being unwilling to try universal health care.

Another one of their gifts, thus far, seems to be repelling black voters. Buttigieg — who has faced criticism for his perceived lack of understanding of the black experience and interactions with black residents and leadership during his eight years as mayor of South Bend, Indiana — has consistently polled in the low single digits with African Americans nationally. In a Quinnipiac survey released Monday, he registered only four percent support. Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, didn’t even have a number by her name. Just a line. Whether that’s zero or less than one, it can’t be good. 

There may be reasons for that. Klobuchar is a former prosecutor who only recently has come under the kind of scrutiny that her former rival Kamala Harris faced for her own past as a county district attorney. A recent AP exposé revealing flaws in her prosecution of Myon Burrell 17 years ago for the stray-bullet killing of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards has raised new questions about a case that Klobuchar has used in past campaigns as an example of her “tough-on-crime” stance. But I don’t bring this or other cases up to bury Klobuchar, as I didn’t write about Harris last year to end her campaign. It’s a long primary. We need to examine the records of these candidates. And by that, I mean all of us. 

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Not nearly enough black, Hispanic, Asian, or indigenous people, quite literally, have had a vote for who the Democratic nominee should be. That needs to matter.

Why is anyone in such a damned hurry to end this? If candidates drop out due to financial concerns, that is a shame. However, no one in the press should be even drafting political obituaries for Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden based upon how they’ve performed thus far. Nor should we be anointing anyone as anything but what they are, based upon the standings. The Democrats have held only two contests. Roughly 467,000 people turned out to either caucus in Iowa or vote in New Hampshire. More than 90 percent of the populations of those states are white. Sanders and Buttigieg appear to be leading, and still have much to prove going forward. Even the candidates themselves would likely admit as much. Why can’t we just say that?

Currently, the Democrats have an extremely flawed process that has now — with the departures of Andrew Yang and Deval Patrick — pushed out every candidate who isn’t white, save Tulsi Gabbard. And we sorely miss the perspectives of Harris, Cory Booker, and Julián Castro, candidates who never even got to face the voters’ judgment. Yet it has made space for two white billionaires who have been able to buy their way into the process without contributing enough in the way of new ideas or direction — particularly for black, Hispanic, and Muslim communities that have been targeted most acutely by the Trump administration. 

“It’s unfortunate,” one former top Booker aide told Rolling Stone. “When Cory suspended the campaign, it was really hard for candidates of color to be competitive with folks like Sanders and Biden who had bigger email lists to help raise money and to spread awareness about the candidate. And the DNC’s donor threshold requirement basically forced the Booker campaign to divert resources to acquiring email addresses through social media instead of putting people on the ground.”

One solution may be a radical one: shortening the primaries overall. The size of our nation dictates that we probably can’t adopt the French process of two-week elections, but a series of Super Tuesdays has been proposed before and makes some sense, especially if ranked-choice voting is incorporated into the process. However, that also has to come with monetary reforms, and unless Citizens United is overturned, can we truly have a healthy politics that serves an increasingly diverse populace with a widening wage gap? It seems doubtful.

Every Democrat, if they know what’s good for them in a race this urgent, against a president who must be defeated, needs know how to build up and maintain an alliance of voters that is multicultural and enthusiastic. She or he should want every voter to actually meet them. “The backbone of the party are diverse coalitions,” said the former Booker aide. “If the nominee is not reflective of those coalitions, he or she needs to be able to bring those coalitions together.”

Rather than being part of the problem and conspiring with the forces pushing out candidates and shortening the process for the sake of political drama, I’d hope that we all would focus on merely covering the races and understanding that a great many people who aren’t white have been waiting patiently to have their say. 

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