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Black Voters Take Center Stage In Latest Democratic Debate

A polling manger holds "I Voted" stickers as she wait for people to cast their ballots in South Carolina. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
A polling manger holds "I Voted" stickers as she wait for people to cast their ballots in South Carolina. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

During Wednesday night’s Democratic debate in Atlanta, 10 candidates discussed and squabbled over who is best able to connect with black voters.

In the 2018 midterm election, 90% of black Americans voted for the Democratic candidate, according to Pew Research Center.

The numbers for men and women were comparable — 92% of black women voted blue and 88% of black men did the same.

What is the significance of securing the black vote in the 2020 election?

Political strategist and commentator Angela Rye and Washington Post political reporter Eugene Scott joined Here & Now’s Tonya Mosley to discuss Wednesday night’s conversation surrounding black Americans.

Interview Highlights

On the significance of Georgia in the 2020 election

Scott: “Well, you can’t talk about Georgia and 2020 without talking about Georgia and 2018 and the much larger issue of voter disenfranchisement. And that topic came up repeatedly during the debate, specifically related to Stacey Abrams, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2018. And there is a genuine concern moving forward that black voters and Latino voters and perhaps other voters of color will not have their ballots counted as we move into 2020, because many of the problems that existed two years ago, should we say, that led to votes being ignored or not counted properly, still exist. And so we certainly saw candidates trying to take the lead in addressing that issue, shedding light on it and perhaps providing solutions to it.”

On Kamala Harris’ powerful moment talking about black women in America

Rye: “This is one of those moments where you realize, for those among us who do not realize it, the importance of having a diverse candidacy and a diverse group of candidates speaking to issues. I know that for me, every debate up until last night, the person who has been the voice of reason on police brutality, on gun violence in communities of color, on issues around mass incarceration and criminal justice reform has been Julian Castro and he was noticeably absent yesterday. And I feel like this particular moment, Kamala Harris really filled that very obvious gap for us.

“Kamala Harris having this moment where she 100% acknowledged — and I’m not saying she ever shies away from her blackness — but really embodied it for the black women who don’t have the numbers to be on that stage, who don’t have the political experience to be on the stage, but have a common shared experience with her in what it’s like to be disenfranchised, discounted, treated as invisible, and feel like their voiceless with the party that they overwhelming support. I thought was powerful.”

Watch on YouTube.

On Pete Buttigieg‘s response to Harris

Scott: “I think the point he was trying to make in that moment was as a member of a marginalized group, as a gay American, he knows what it is like to be otherized and disrespected because of his identity. But bringing it up in a moment when the conversation was about how black people have been historically disenfranchised from the political process came off as tone-deaf to quite a few people who are, in fact, both black and gay. And Kamala Harris spoke to that issue this morning at the Black Women’s Power Breakfast in Atlanta. She called his comments naive and unproductive.

“He really should have kept the conversation on how black people, and black women in particular, specifically are harmed by the current political process, opposed to widening it to include how white gay men are as well.”

On Joe Biden’s tone-deaf moment responding to Cory Booker

Rye: “One thing that I think is interesting is you kind of had two tone-deaf moments like that last night. The other one came from Joe Biden. When Joe Biden said, ‘I’m from the black community’ and it’s like, Joe, we love you. As a former associate a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, sir, we applaud your allyship. But one place you do not come from is out of the black community.”

Watch on YouTube.

On whether this debate will impact Biden’s popularity among black voters

Scott: “I think what was also interesting in terms of being tone-deaf by Biden’s comments is him implying that he was brought on the Obama ticket to help bring more black votes to the table. And that’s actually not why he was brought on. He had foreign policy experience. He could really connect with white working-class Americans from, you know, places like Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he is from — not the black community. And that’s a good thing. That’s a great thing. But to misrepresent the value you bring to the table in front of two other black candidates who have long roots in the black community, I don’t think won him more points with black Americans.”

Rye: “In so many ways, the black electorate is parallel to the majority in that they are making decisions about who they think is electable based on what conventional wisdom has told them election after election. This is the same group of people that weren’t giving Barack Obama a chance, right. They thought that he was not electable. … I remember older black folks saying, ‘We can’t get a black president. We can’t have a black president in the United States. Come on.’ And so one in the same, Joe Biden has earned some stripes based on the fact, right, that he was a part of the Obama coalition by being the vice president. So he gets some gravitas from that then maybe he ordinarily wouldn’t have.”


Cristina Kim produced this story and edited it for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.