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Biden Brings the Pain, Warren Starts to Gain and Yang Makes It Rain: 2020 Presidential Black Power Rankings

We’re back! Yes, after a short break, The Root 2020 Presidential Black Power Rankings are back just in time for the Hunger Games of the third Democratic debates and the post-Labor Day campaign push.

When we last left our field of would-be Donald Trump challengers, there were still fifty-eleven candidates running. Now, thanks to additional (some would say arbitrary) criteria to make the third debate—like having at least 130,000 donors and no less than 400 donors in 20 states, and hitting 2 percent in at least four major polls—several candidates realized they wouldn’t make the cut and quit the race. The names of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joined Gov. Jay Inslee, Rep. Seth Moulton and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper all flashed on the big board in the sky, leaving the race at a lean 10 or so viable competitors.

Over the next few week’s rankings, we’ll be introducing some new wrinkles, guest judges and a way for readers to participate as well, so expect more volatility as candidates have to make big pushes heading into the holiday season.

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This week’s rankings were particularly active with every candidate moving and a new debut. This week’s big riser is Vice President Joe Biden, who jumped up six spots to his highest ranking ever, and this week’s big loser, after serious debate, is Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who’s become the committee’s heartbreak kid.

First time reading the Black Power Rankings, or forgotten how I (Dr. Jason Johnson Politics Editor of the Root) and Marcus Ferrell, Former Head of African American Outreach for Bernie Sanders 2016 and our rotating committee put together our list? Check out the guide below.

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?

#1: Sen. Elizabeth Warren

After the break, we took a look at Elizabeth Warren with fresh eyes. She’s moved up to second across the board in almost every national poll. She’s third overall with black women and fourth among millennial black women, according to Essence magazine’s latest poll, and she just hired Jonathan Jayes-Green, who is Afro-Latinx, to head up Latinx outreach as well. She rolled out a new Social Security plan that has some specific policies for black people, so we can forgive her lousy answer about criminal justice to formerly incarcerated people for now. Warren did a good job in Thursday’s debate; she didn’t have a shining moment but was her usual inspiring self so she retakes the top spot.

#2: Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro

Julian Castro wins the Emmy for best Highlander impression when he essentially declared THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE heir to the Obama legacy. He didn’t manage to decapitate Joe Biden but he got in shots, and let’s be clear : His attacks on Biden weren’t ageist, they were about the VP’s tendency to forget/mumble and gaffe the facts. Castro didn’t come for Warren and Bernie (who are close in age to Biden) because he knew he’d get checked. The committee also gives Castro props for talking to mostly all-white crowds at the New Hampshire Democratic convention about police reform, and for calling climate change a civil rights issue during the climate town hall on CNN. This week Castro also came out in strong support of black trans rights, which, if you care about black people, you have to be alarmed at the number of black trans women who have been murdered in 2019. You know what the committee didn’t like about Castro these last two weeks? He skipped the Democrat’s “Stop the Violence Gun Control” video, which was like an older, whiter, less rhythmic version of “Self-Destruction.”

#3: Former Vice President Joe Biden

No need to adjust your phone or glasses. Joe Biden returns from the bye week with his highest ranking ever at No. 3. Why? Because Steady Joe is still polling at No. 1 among black voters. You can fight the air all you want, but clearly, enough of black America is still in love with Joe that we can’t keep him out of the top three this week. Plus, his campaign rolled out 59 new endorsements from black legislators in 15 states right before the third debate. Biden’s dropping more black names than a Kardashian in a confession booth, and he’s got more coming, too. And despite calling Bernie Sanders “president,” talking about Bosco and record players, and suggesting black folks can’t raise their own kids, Biden was on fire during the debate. Do we like that Biden had a sneaky meeting with members of the black press and hardly told anybody in D.C.? (Yeah we heard about that). No. Do we like that Biden wanted to send a “black surrogate” to The Breakfast Club instead of talking with Charlamagne Tha God and crew directly? No. But for this week at least, Joe Biden has something to cheer about.

#4: Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders had a good week; he’s tops among millennial black women in the Essence poll; he’s leading in New Hampshire, and a recent poll has him beating Donald Trump in Texas for the 2020 election. Despite his constant whining about the press, Sanders has offered up some good ideas about combating the influence of corporate and private equity firms’ impact on journalism and the erosion of reporters’ rights. He killed it at the Islamic Society of North America Annual Conference (20 percent of American Muslims are African American) too. Here’s the problem though, according to our committee; the average white man, even one who reminds you every 15 minutes that he marched with Martin Luther King Jr., gets exactly one “nigger pass” in his life. That includes saying niggardly, nigga with an “a,” nigger with a hard “r,” pronouncing the nation of Niger with a bit too much emphasis, and any nigger-adjacent words. Bernie already got caught using the word niggardly in a speech in 1986. Last week, it was revealed that he used the word nigger in a 1997 book on policy. Just for those keeping score (and we do) Bernie Sanders has been documented using nigger-adjacent words more times than anybody else running for president. And that includes Donald Trump. He’s lucky he did well in the debates.

#5: Sen. Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris has had a bounce-back in the Power Rankings and you could tell by how she basically skipped the Democratic debate and went straight after Donald Trump in full black girl flex. While she’s slipped to fourth or fifth in Iowa, she is polling second among millennial black women in the recent Essence magazine poll. She snagged endorsements from Jackie K. Weatherspoon and Brenda Lett, the co-chair and secretary of the New Hampshire Democratic Party African American Caucus, which helps her stay competitive there. A lot of attention was paid this week to Harris’ new criminal justice plan, and while that’s nice, what caught the committee’s attention was her veterans’ benefits plan, which would expand health benefits and provide housing for almost 500,000 American veterans. Over 31 percent of all women in the American armed forces are black women, and 45 percent of all homeless veteran women are black. Harris is out to help those who gave the most and suffer the most. That was worth a move up in the polls.

#6: Sen. Cory Booker

Cory Booker might be too nice for this world of politics. His girlfriend, actress Rosario Dawson, said in an interview this week that dating Cory Booker was like “…dating Captain America.” (Does that mean she’s cheating on Luke Cage?) In the days before the debates, Booker was joking online with Castro and Beto, and even his attacks during the debate sounded more like a stern sitcom dad from a Disney channel show than somebody who should be commander-in-chief. His recent plan to create a $50 billion environmental fund to take the war straight to climate change is the kind of nice policy we’ve come to expect from Booker. However, it was his responses to the HIV Plus magazine questionnaire on how to combat the disease that kept him from slipping more than one spot. While black folks are 13 percent of the U.S. population we are over 43 percent of diagnosed HIV cases. Nice to see Booker passionate about some less-than-flashy issues that face black folks. But he’ll need that to translate into poll numbers soon or he’ll keep dropping.

#7: Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Mayor Pete, we told you this day was coming. Yes, he touted his Douglass Plan during the debate and it made perfect sense. Yes, he met with black community leaders in Austin, Texas, and got a nice church clap. But Mayor Pete has dropped in national and state polls and is now in a Gen-X boy band of single-digit candidates along with Booker, O’Rourke and even Castro (the band is called N’Significant if you were wondering). Even worse, he’s dead last and polling below Donald Trump among black women in the latest Essence magazine poll. At this point, the committee isn’t mad if Mayor Pete was on The Breakfast Club making a last-ditch effort to get an endorsement from Little Nas X, because after all this time and money, Mayor Pete is as popular with black folk as a post-chicken sandwich from Popeyes.

#8: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke

This was a tough ranking this week. Racially Woke Beto and Anti-Gun Beto are the best Beto. During the Democratic debate, O’Rourke answered a question on American race relations by citing the New York Times’ 1619 Project and promising to sign a reparations bill if he’s elected. In one fell swoop, Beto brought Shea Butter Twitter and ADOS Twitter together. Beto also rolled out 27 more endorsements from African-American political leaders in Texas right before the debate. While it fell during our bye week, Beto gets credit for doing an effective HBCU tour and for kicking terrorist fan-boy site Breitbart out of a meeting he was having with students at Benedict College in South Carolina. So why did Beto fall six whole spots this week? According to our committee, it’s two things; first, for all of Beto’s passion, his poll numbers remain abysmal. Across the board, he’s barely moved despite saying all the right things. Next, rumor has it he’s been one of the most active down ballot campaigners for 2020, meaning he’s spent a lot of time in places like Virginia and other swing states campaigning for state legislatures. That’s not inherently bad, but Beto, if you won’t run in Texas, you need to put 100 percent of your energy into the 2020 presidential campaign trail. Beto needs to look all in, not just like he’s on his woke political gap year.

#9: Businessman Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang came within an inch of just paying us directly for his vote, and quite honestly, it worked for a lot of committee members. During the debate, he announced that 10 lucky families would get his $1,000 a month as part of a rollout for his Universal Basic Income plan. The idea was so popular that Mr. Serena Williams volunteered to help with the plan on Twitter.

Here’s the rub, though: Yang’s universal basic income plan also comes with a side of charter schools and possibly a weakening of the social safety net in other areas. That $1,000 may not bridge the gap between food stamps and Medicaid. Plus is he really giving away $1,000 cash or is Democracy Dollars and if so can I exchange those for Schrute Bucks or Camel Cash ? So he drops two spots. Real talk though; there’s a long history of buying off black votes in America with nothing more than chicken dinners and concerts. Cold hard cash saves us a lot of time.

#10: Sen. Amy Klobuchar

We know what you’re thinking. That Sen. Klobuchar is only on this list because she was the last Democrat on the stage. Well, you’d be wrong (We aren’t that nice). First, she co-sponsored a bill this week to provide sanctuary for Bahamian refugees trying to get to the United States after Hurricane Dorian. Next, Klobuchar made sincere effort to remind everyone in the debate audience (and herself probably) that she was at an HBCU and for dropping Rep. Barbara Jordan’s name like the most earnest white girl at a 7th grade Black History Month program. As problematic as critics say Harris was as a prosecutor, Klobuchar was just as bad during her time as a prosecutor in Minnesota. The difference is, that when she was asked about race, incarceration, and justice during the debate, she actually gave a better answer than what we usually hear from Harris. That’s worth a first trip to our rankings.