It’s no secret that the Democratic Party cannot win national elections without the black vote. Less well understood by major Democratic candidates and donors is that black voters are not a monolith. Particularly in the black church, we fall along a wide spectrum of conservative and liberal social values. Our intersections related to race and gender are complex and nuanced.
When black people say that they are tired of our votes being taken for granted, we are referring in part to this lack of understanding. Gaining our vote requires gaining more than a cursory understanding of who we are as a people. Candidates will need to be able to speak to a full range of issues and concerns and, just as importantly, feel comfortable engaging directly with a range of African American people.
Three years ago, the Black Church PAC was formed to give our historically critical voting demographic a greater voice before we go to the polls. On Friday and Saturday (Aug. 16 and 17), the PAC held its first candidate forum, with an audience of 5,000 African American Christian millennials from 42 different states at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta.
Seven of the top-tier candidates were invited, and five attended: Secretary Julian Castro, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the Black Church PAC forum during the Young Leaders Conference on Aug. 17, 2019, in Atlanta. Video screengrab
The forum not only gave candidates an opportunity to make their case for why black voters should entrust them with their vote; it tested the candidates’ ability to connect with young black churchgoers who lean in a socially conservative direction — a voting bloc that is not necessarily well acquainted with long-established Democratic politicians and that has not necessarily bought in to the traditional progressive talking points.
Candidates got a chance to address the full conference but also met with small groups of voters and engaged in spirited dialogue about critical issues ranging from gun violence and the criminal justice system to student loan debt, immigration, education, health care and reparations. These sessions tested candidates’ expertise on critical issues but also revealed how comfortable they were listening to and being challenged by those with experiences very different from their own.
During the meeting, we ran a survey of close to 800 conference attendees to gauge their opinions about the candidates and issues, in addition to gathering qualitative responses. We plan to have a briefing with candidates to share these results before we make them public, but some quick takeaways include:
Candidates who attended experienced a significant bump in their support; candidates who didn’t experienced a significant drop in their support.
Close to 10% of respondents are unfamiliar with the candidates who were listed.
The most important issues among those to take the survey: jobs/economy, gun violence, white nationalism.
A critical finding here is that most candidates have simply not broken through to young African American voters. This is alarming because, if this vital demographic is not actively engaged in selecting the eventual nominee, Democrats may end up with a nominee who fails to engage a significant voting bloc in the general election.
Sen. Cory Booker addresses the first day of the Black Church PAC presidential candidate forum at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta on Aug. 16, 2019. Video screengrab
Compounding this problem is the fact that Democrats have a miserable record of investing in black grassroots organizers, black community-based organizations and black political consultants, who are often best equipped to mobilize black voters.
Steve Phillips, the civil rights lawyer and founder of the website Democracy in Color, has described at great length the billion-dollar blunders Democratic and Allied Progressive groups continue to make in their political spending. The lessons to take from these unforced errors, he has said, are clear: Political spending in the Democratic ecosystem must be early, often and targeted to groups who register; and we must educate and mobilize black and brown voters, especially for turnout on Election Day.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, left, takes questions from moderators the Rev. Leah Daughtry and the Rev. Michael McBride during the Black Church PAC forum at the Young Leaders Conference on Aug. 17, 2019, in Atlanta. Video screengrab
The same kind of results could be achieved in swing states throughout the country if, rather than centering their campaigns around convincing white “Reagan Democrats” to stay blue, candidates doubled down on turning out reliably blue African American voters in places like Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia.
We suspect that when candidates and their teams forgo this approach, it is because they do not have either the cultural proficiency or the willingness to make the black grassroots investments required to pull off this type of strategy. No one expects large numbers of blacks to vote for President Trump; however, operating as if African American and other voters will come out in droves simply to vote against Trump — without giving them someone who is compelling to vote for — is a risky and reckless approach.
Even within the more conservative bloc of the black church, Trump’s message is repulsive to millennials and their black elders. Unlike white evangelicals, whose support for Trump still hovers above 80%, socially conservative-leaning black church members detected very clearly the racialized rhetoric and dangerous policies of Trump and overwhelmingly do not support him. With meaningful engagement, these voters can be activated to vote for a candidate who promotes a compelling vision of belonging, justice and opportunity for all.
Through this election cycle and beyond, we will continue to give candidates opportunities to make their case and truly listen to black voters.
Presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg addresses the first day of the Black Church PAC presidential candidate forum at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta on Aug. 16, 2019. Video screengrab
(The Rev. Michael McBride is pastor of The Way Church in Berkeley, California, and national director of Faith in Action’s urban strategies and LIVE FREE Project. The Rev. Leah Daughtry, former CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, is presiding prelate-elect of The House of the Lord Churches and a founding board member of the Black Church PAC. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
NEW JERSEY STAR: Newark Mayor Cory Booker is often compared to President Barack Obama because of his youthful charisma, Ivy League pedigree, and post-racial persona. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Newscom)
Fueling speculation about his White House ambitions, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will headline a Democratic fundraiser in South Carolina, which hosts the South’s first presidential primary.
The Orangeburg County Democratic Party told The Associated Press that Booker is scheduled to attend its annual fundraising gala Oct. 18. That will put him in front of more than 1,000 South Carolina Democrats, including many of the state’s most prominent black leaders and activists.
The event will mark Booker’s first trip to South Carolina since President Donald Trump took office. South Carolina is the first early voting state with a significant black population.
Booker, one of three African-American senators, sought to frame his South Carolina trip in the context of the November midterm election, and a Booker aide said the South Carolina trip would involve additional appearances on behalf of Democratic candidates running this year.
“As I’ve traveled across the country campaigning, I’ve seen unprecedented enthusiasm for a new generation of Democratic candidates,” Booker said in a statement. “Now, we must turn that energy into action.”
Indeed, Booker and other speculative presidential hopefuls like fellow Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have confined their travel itineraries mostly to midterm battlegrounds, and Warren has her own re-election campaign this year.
But South Carolina Democrats face an uphill battle this November, with gubernatorial nominee James Smith being a decided underdog against incumbent Republican and Trump ally Henry McMaster.
The Orangeburg event coincides with fall homecoming festivities of South Carolina State University, the local historically black campus.
Orangeburg Democratic Chairman Kenny Glover, who issues the invitation, said he simply wanted “a national figure” for the event, but he stopped short of declaring Booker a 2020 favorite. “Oh, we do not endorse,” he said.
Barack Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 swept South Carolina and other Southern primaries, with their support in the black community fueling early delegate leads that propelled them to the Democratic nomination. In fact, both Obama and Clinton lost the national cumulative white vote, according to primary exit polls, but captured the nomination anyway because of margins among non-whites.
Certainly, the expected crowded field in 2020 isn’t likely to play out exactly as those previous nomination fights that settled quickly into two-candidate races, and leading black Democrats say African-Americans may not coalesce clearly behind a single candidate at all.
Besides Booker, the potential African-American candidates include Harris, former Attorney General Eric Holder and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Former Vice President Joe Biden also has deep ties in the black community and the appeal of having served as top lieutenant to Obama, the nation’s first black president.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond said in a recent interview that the allure of history and kinship won’t be the same as it was for black voters during Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Richmond praised Booker’s life story, “growing up in a working-class family and going on to the Ivy League. He also extolled Harris and Warren for their work on Capitol Hill, while noting Biden’s “long track record.”
GOING ROGUE: Last Sunday, during a 'Meet the Press' panel discussion, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a surrogate for President Obama's re-election campaign, praised Obama's record but went off-message when he scolded the Obama campaign for negative ads.
On Monday night, I was out with friends when my pal Outlaw told me about another person there who’d made some less than flattering comments about him. Here’s the thing: Outlaw is my friend. This random guy running his mouth was not. So from there I went on to joke about the stranger, making assessments about his overall character and so forth. Then Outlaw laughed and said, “We can’t really speculate on who he is based on this one comment he made about me. You’re just saying all that stuff because you’re my friend.”
I replied, “Of course I am, duh! That’s what friends do.”
And I mean it. I believe that’s what friends are for: to love you unconditionally and support you when you need it. When your friend gets cheated on and calls you, your job is to pick her side and provide comfort. Now, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that pesky thing called accountability. When you’re wrong, your friends should tell you and hold you accountable. But when you’re in a fight –particularly physical ones — you expect your friends to jump in and sort out the details later. Right?
Well, it seems the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker, was in a bit of a quandary. I’m sure you’ve heard of him, but if not … Mayor Booker is a progressive young politician who enjoys immense popularity in his hometown and across the country. Many believe he has the potential to hold an even higher position, maybe even president! While he’s managed to appease liberals and conservatives alike in his home city, he primarily moves rank and file with President Obama and has been an outspoken and helpful backer of the Obama administration. When the President voiced his support of same-sex marriage, Cory Booker took to his Twitter feed (as he often does) to applaud and agree. One could say that Mayor Booker and President Obama are pretty chummy.
That was until Mr. Booker was interviewed on Meet the Press last week. Mayor Booker called the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, “ridiculous” and “nauseating.” In case you haven’t seen it, I’ll let you take a look below.
When I saw Mayor Booker’s comments flicker across my timeline, I thought that I was surely misreading it. I mean, it’s one thing for lil ol’ me to disagree with President Obama (I do so pretty often, actually), but I’m not the President’s pal; I’m not an elected official; I’m not a leading voice in the Democratic party; and I don’t have anything close to Cory Booker’s 1,150,727 followers.
However, when Mayor Booker calls out the Obama campaign’s tactics, it makes us wonder … was it the right thing to do? The media recognized the spectacle right away, declaring that Booker had gone “rogue” and speculating on how damaging his words would be to the Obama campaign. After Booker released a personal video in a desperate attempt to clarify his comments, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough even suggested that Booker is “fighting for his political life.”
From my perspective, this controversy ultimately goes back to those old conflicting questions about friendship. Should Mayor Booker have stuck to his guns and his morals that said, “The political discourse has gone too far, we’ve got to get above the nasty fighting and stay above the fray?” Or should he have stood by his friend and fellow statesman who’s running in a tight race against a man that Mayor Booker surely doesn’t want to win the presidency?
It’s a tough call and one we often have to make in our personal lives. Do you stand by your friend even when you disagree with her cheating on her nice yet gullible boyfriend? Or do you call her on it and threaten to expose her if she doesn’t shape up and act right?
In this case, I too have some critical feedback for the Obama campaign’s tactics. The emails I’m getting from the Democratic National Committee often sound as divisive as a Fox News personality, and there’s an ad out that compares Mitt Romney to a vampire for “sucking jobs away from a steel town.” That type of rhetoric is polarizing and doesn’t resonate with the inspiring picture of our president that draws voters together. Perhaps Obama’s campaign does need to take a couple chill pills. However, I believe Mayor Booker could have expressed his concerns to the campaign without necessarily sharing them with the world. I can’t say for sure if the mayor already tried to do this and had to resort to airing his concerns on Meet the Press, but think about it this way: Drawing on the previous example, if your friend is cheating on her boyfriend, do you tell her to get right via Twitter or over a one-on-one brunch? Obviously, the personal, less-public option is the only way to go if you have any interest in preserving the friendship.
So, Mayor Booker, I agree with what you said; I just question if the setting was right.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s campaign now has a new star in their most recent attack ads against President Obama — the one and only Honorable Mayor Cory Booker.
Who. Woulda. Thunk?
If nothing else, this little episode tells us we should be gearing up for an ugly presidential election. Which is exactly what Cory Booker was trying to avoid.
Superhero Mayor: Newark Mayor Cory Booker saves neighbor from fiery blaze.
A “come to Jesus moment” is how the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker, described the experience of saving his neighbor from a fiery blaze last night. “I feel a sense of gratitude today to God that I’m here and still feeling kind of like I had my proverbial ‘come to Jesus’ moment in my life,” Booker said at a press conference today.
The New Jersey Star-Leger reported that the fire started “shortly before the mayor arrived home after a television interview” last night and that “five people were taken to the hospital for treatment: the mayor, a woman from the house and three members of his security detail.” Booker was treated for smoke inhalation and second-degree burns to his hand. The neighbor was listed in stable condition this morning at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey, with burns to her back and neck, according to The Star-Ledger.
Booker said he did not feel “bravery,” but “terror” when he thought he might not find the woman or get out of the house alive, even though he had pulled rank on the security detail who tried to stop him from executing a citizen rescue. “I really feel thankful to God, because just when I was falling down, trying to find somewhere to breathe, I finally heard her and found an opening where I could grab her,” Booker said. “Today is a surreal day for me. Everything has taken on a sense of depth to it. I think sometimes the biggest gratitude in life is to be able to put your feet on the ground and look at the world and say I’m still here. I’m very, very happy that this family that’s been so good to me over the years, that they’re all safe and sound.”
In response to the mayor’s heroism, The Atlantic published a “Super Mayor” quiz, Mashable posted a funny superhero mashup, and a Twitter meme broke out under the hashtag #corybookerstories. It included tweets like: “When Chuck Norris has nightmares, Cory Booker turns on the light & sits with him until he falls back asleep,” by @MilesGrant, “Cory Booker doesn’t tap into the Force, the Force taps into Cory Booker,” by @LordPalpatine, and “After the incident, Smoke was treated for Cory Booker exposure,” by @ZandarVTS.
I added my own tweet, which said, “@CoryBooker stopped to pick up my pen after delivering State of the City 2012, LOL.” It was no joke. I took note of the mayor’s kindness in the midst of the rollicking public event at which I conducted an on-the-fly interview with him for UrbanFaith because it struck me as a demonstration of habitual, unconscious selflessness when he did it. The parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants in Matthew 25: 14-28 came to mind then and again this morning when I heard news of his heroism. In the parable, the servant who has been faithful in the small things is affirmed by the Lord and put in charge of many. This is one more Cory Booker story that makes me wonder what God has in store for the passionate, energetic mayor of Newark—especially now that he’s lived through what he describes as a real-life “come to Jesus” moment.