Can­di­dates of color face unique is­sues

Har­ris’ early exit points to hur­dles block­ing mi­nori­ties

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Er­rin Haines

Ka­mala Har­ris cloaked her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in the prom­ise of be­com­ing the first black woman in the White House. That wasn’t enough for donors and sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing black vot­ers.

The Cal­i­for­nia se­na­tor abruptly with­drew from the race last week af­ter her once-promis­ing cam­paign failed to co­a­lesce around a mes­sage that would res­onate with vot­ers. And with­out clear sup­port from vot­ers, Har­ris couldn’t raise the money needed to keep go­ing.

Re­spon­si­bil­ity for the col­lapse of a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign al­most al­ways rests with the can­di­date. But Har­ris’ exit also demon­strates the unique chal­lenges fac­ing can­di­dates of color in the 2020 cam­paign.

As Demo­cratic vot­ers of all races al­most sin­gu­larly ob­sess over who is seen as best po­si­tioned to de­feat Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump next year, can­di­dates who aren’t white are largely seen as not fit­ting the bill.

With less than two months be­fore vot­ing be­gins, those judg­ments — right or wrong — are be­com­ing fa­tal as donors watch these cues to de­cide when to pull back.

“It’s the money, it’s the sup­port, it’s the polls. It’s an as­sump­tion for black can­di­dates that their cam­paigns are long shots,” said Quentin James, the founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Col­lec­tivePAC, an or­ga­ni­za­tion aimed at build­ing black po­lit­i­cal power. “We’re left to won­der why is it that a can­di­date’s race still im­pacts how much money they can raise or how much sup­port they get from in­sti­tu­tional Demo­cratic donors.”

Barack Obama, the first black pres­i­dent, is one of the most suc­cess­ful Demo­cratic fundrais­ers, still col­lect­ing mil­lions of dol­lars for the party nearly three years af­ter he left the White House. And plenty of white can­di­dates have had money prob­lems this year.

John Hick­en­looper, the for­mer gov­er­nor of Colorado, couldn’t raise enough money for his pres­i­den­tial bid and chose to run for the U.S. Se­nate in­stead. Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand of New York, a pow­er­house fundraiser in her home state, couldn’t trans­late that suc­cess to her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and dropped out in Au­gust. Mon­tana Gov. Steve Bul­lock ended his cam­paign last week, also be­moan­ing money trou­ble.

But other white can­di­dates have had suc­cess that women and can­di­dates of color have said isn’t avail­able to them.

Har­ris is the high­es­trank­ing black woman in the U.S. gov­ern­ment. But the $35.5 mil­lion she raised dur­ing her cam­paign falls far short of the $51.5 mil­lion that Pete But­tigieg, the 37year-old white mayor of South Bend, In­di­ana, has col­lected.

Other white can­di­dates with big ques­tions about their electabil­ity have also hauled in sub­stan­tial sums of money. Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders has raised $61 mil­lion — more than any of his ri­vals — de­spite de­bate over whether his poli­cies are too lib­eral. Con­cerns over the 78-year-old’s can­di­dacy also grew af­ter he had a heart at­tack in Oc­to­ber. He has since re­turned to ac­tive cam­paign­ing.

For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den is leg­en­dar­ily gaffe-prone and also faces ques­tions about whether, at 77, he’s too old to man­age the de­mands of the pres­i­dency. But he’s raised $37.7 mil­lion, top­ping Har­ris even though he launched his cam­paign more than two months af­ter she did.

This is not just about Har­ris. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has strug­gled to raise money. In Septem­ber, he pleaded with sup­port­ers to donate $1.7 mil­lion in 10 days to keep him in the race. On the de­bate stage last month, he turned his clos­ing state­ment into an­other pitch for cash, rais­ing over $500,000 in nine hours. Al­though he has met the fundrais­ing thresh­old for this month’s de­bate, low polling num­bers may keep him off the stage for the first time.

“Peo­ple as­sume he’s go­ing to be in this all the way be­cause he’s cre­den­tialed and such a se­ri­ous can­di­date,” said Jenna Lowen­stein, Booker’s deputy cam­paign man­ager. “We saw it com­ing, that this was go­ing to nar­row this way, that it was go­ing to be be­cause of money. We’ve re­ally been look­ing for ev­ery op­por­tu­nity when eye­balls are on us to make di­rect ap­peals be­cause ev­ery time we do it, it works.”

For­mer Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary Ju­lian Cas­tro — a Latino whose suc­cess­ful 10-day, $800,000 fundrais­ing push in Oc­to­ber brought his cam­paign back from the brink — may miss the de­bate stage for the sec­ond time in a row.

For­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. De­val Pa­trick, who’s black, en­tered the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial race just last month, and he has al­most no chance to qual­ify for the De­cem­ber de­bate.

Nei­ther busi­ness­man An­drew Yang, who’s Asian, nor U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard of Hawaii, who’s Amer­i­can Samoan and Hindu, has yet qual­i­fied for this month’s de­bate, mean­ing the de­bate field could be all-white for the first time this cy­cle.

The rapidly shift­ing dy­nam­ics strongly sug­gest that a Demo­cratic field that be­gan as the most di­verse in his­tory is un­likely to yield a per­son of color as its nom­i­nee. That raises struc­tural ques­tions about how mod­ern cam­paigns func­tion.

Small-dol­lar donors tend to be over­whelm­ingly white, older and well-off with dis­pos­able in­come — in many ways, the op­po­site of the Demo­cratic Party’s voter base. For some­one like Cas­tro, the lone Latino can­di­date, he’s speak­ing to sup­port­ers who are not part of the tra­di­tional donor class, or in a po­si­tion to sup­port him fi­nan­cially even if they like his mes­sage, said cam­paign man­ager Maya Ru­pert.

“Our donors are a part of this cam­paign in a way that’s prob­a­bly true of a lot of cam­paigns, but is also tied to be­ing able to get on the next de­bate stage and re­main vi­able,” she said. “We very much meant it in Oc­to­ber when we said, ‘We don’t see a path for­ward if we’re not able to raise this amount.’

Peo­ple have to un­der­stand the ur­gency.”

There have also been chal­lenges with big­ger donors. On Nov. 27, Booker su­per PAC Dream United closed af­ter be­ing un­able to raise the money it had hoped to use to but­tress his cam­paign.

The failed ef­fort points to “a lurk­ing fear that a black can­di­date is less electable,” said Steve Phillips, who launched the ef­fort in De­cem­ber 2018.

“There are many more peo­ple of color who are able to con­trib­ute more than $2,800,” said Phillips. “We had peo­ple who were pre­pared ini­tially to write seven-fig­ure checks, but who then were re­luc­tant to pull the trig­ger. It be­came clear that these fears about electabil­ity were larger than we orig­i­nally an­tic­i­pated. What you see in the polling num­bers among black vot­ers you also see in the giv­ing num­bers.“

“There’s a fear,” he con­tin­ued, “that this would be wasted sup­port be­cause of their fears about whether the rest of the elec­torate will back a per­son of color.”


Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris signs are dis­played out­side her Oak­land cam­paign of­fice. Har­ris quit the pres­i­den­tial race last week.

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