Updated: November 28, 2022
“Seriously, you might as well bathe yourself in barbecue sauce for all the smoke you’re gonna take this week” —My well-intentioned warning to fellow Black Power Rankings judge Marcus Ferrell (former director of African American Outreach, Bernie for America 2016, and senior adviser for Swing Left).
Mr. Ferrell is the silent partner in the Black Power Rankings, the only other permanent committee member besides myself. Marcus is an idealist and his left-leaning activist and organizer resume is a great balance to my cynical academic and consulting background. He’s the Tommy to my Ghost, the Captain America to my Iron Man, the Keegan-Michael Key to my Jordan Peele. Marcus has been clamoring for a Power Rankings Week that focused specifically on what candidates were doing to appeal to black male voters. I told him the committee couldn’t protect him from all the hell coming his way, but that we’d send a nice fruit basket to his Twitter funeral.
Why center black men in the Power Rankings? Especially when for decades the few times African Americans were the focus of presidential politics it was always about black men (the whole “all the women are white, all the blacks are men” trope)? Because Donald Trump is making his play. About 13 percent of black men voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and the Trump campaign believes if they can get 15 percent of black men in 2020, they can secure another Electoral College (certainly not popular vote) victory.
All of this Kanye nonsense, the First Step Act, Blexit and promoting ADOS are all right-wing methods of either attracting disaffected black men to Trump or convincing black men to not vote at all (which is a vote for Trump). This kind of black male detachment matters at the ballot box; over 500,000 black male registered voters didn’t turn out in Georgia between 2016 to 2018 and those are the kinds of numbers that flip states, legislatures and presidencies. So this week, we’re focusing on which candidates are looking at a newly overlooked constituency in the Democratic base and whether they truly realize that #AllBlackVotersMatter.
This week’s big riser is Bernie Sanders, who, to the surprise of everyone, snagged the top spot again without having a medical emergency or a major debate performance. This week, a whole lot of candidates dropped, which means there is work to be done across the board. One final note: We pushed back this week’s Power Rankings (thus calling this Week 18½) to capture several new candidate entries, and this will be our last ranking before Thanksgiving. We’ll be back on Friday, Dec. 5, full of turkey and ready for that stretch run. Enjoy the rankings!
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. Bernie Sanders
The committee has had plenty of critical things to say about Bernie Sanders. His out-of-control staffers on Twitter, his lack of transparency…but a broken analog clock is right at least twice a day if you really look at it from the right angle. Word on the street is that Bernie is about to launch an all-out assault to attract black male voters led by one of the biggest cultural organizers out there, Phillip Agnew. Yeah, Dream Defenders Phillip Agnew—act like you know. Say what you want about Killer Mike and Cornel West (not in front of Marcus; you might catch hands), but for this week, at least, Bernie is putting the MOST attention on the most overlooked part of the Democratic coalition for 2020. Add to that his improving national numbers this week and Bernie secures the No. 1 spot for the second time in the rankings.
#2: Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Warren started off her week a little rough. When asked by moderator Angela Rye to name three black people she would place in her cabinet, Warren referred to the law firm of What, Had Happen and Was. It was embarrassing; even Trump could’ve come up with Diamond, Silk and Kanye. When asked about the lack of diversity in early primary states, Warren electric slid out of that answer, too. The committee was not pleased. So how did Warren recover? The senator brought her endorsers from Black Womxn to her headquarters and gave them some parting gifts in the form of talking points on everything from social media to school debt to black lives and how her campaign is dedicated to addressing those issues. There are no greater amplifiers on social media than black women, and Warren just nabbed herself the equivalent of 500,000 selfies. She also pointed out how school debt disproportionately harms black students and called out private equity firms for screwing over musicians who don’t own all of their music; while she did it in defense of Taylor Swift, that’s actually been a major issue for black artists for decades.
#3: Sen. Kamala Harris
To quote the old Richard Pryor documentary: “I ain’t dead yet, muthaf$%!” Literally this week, everybody is proclaiming the Harris campaign dead. Yes, Harris falls in the rankings this week as she’s dropped behind Amy Klobuchar in some Iowa polls, but a lot of the push to throw dirt on her campaign and even her political future is, as much as this term is overused, misogynoir. Harris has more cash on hand than Biden, can actually name three black people she’d want in her administration and is campaigning with Uncle Luke to earn the black male vote while other candidates think black male interests start and end in a barber’s chair. Plus, after Joy Reid told the senator she was No. 1 on The Root’s Power Rankings last week, she gave us our props. We are easily bribed and flattered, senator, so that works for this week.
#4: Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro
In a perfect world, the Democratic primaries would actually feature more than five black voters before South Carolina, Colin Kaepernick would be playing for the Chicago Bears, Disney would come free with a triple-stack at IHOP, Lauryn Hill would start a concert on time and Julian Castro would be in the November Democratic debate. But it isn’t a perfect world and I’m still not paying for Disney (and the committee is too ethical and or cheap for password sharing). Castro drops this week because, unlike alt-right-abetted candidates Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard or millionaire vanity candidates with shady staffers like Tom Steyer, he couldn’t reach the poll threshold to make the November debate. However, Castro continues to campaign, rolling out a new disability bill (over 14 percent of African Americans have some disability) and holding an interview with Angela Rye at Paschal’s in Atlanta the day before the debates (she’s everywhere this week!) in addition to going to Iowa to make his case that early majority-white primary states suppresses the black vote. We’ll miss Castro on the debate stage, but he’s still pushing for black folks even when he’s not on camera.
#5: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Is it possible to cancel, uncancel and then cancel somebody again, all within a few weeks? Is Mayor Pete the candidate equivalent of Dollar Shave Club, which seems like a good idea in theory, but every time you reorder, you realize it’s a gimmick and a waste of time? First, #SneakyPete’s campaign forged the names of black people who support his Douglass Plan and got caught for it. You ain’t got to lie, Pete; the plan is actually pretty good on its own merits. Then, in a hold-my-beer moment of campaign racial incompetence, his team was caught using a stock photo of a woman in Kenya to supposedly represent black voters in America.
Mayor Pete has literally become a laughing stock among black women in politics. Do you realize that Kamala Harris literally clutched her pearls before laughing at this man?
The only reason Buttigieg hasn’t dropped further is because he’s now leading in Iowa, although Pete’s about as popular with black people as Stephen A. Smith is at a Black Lives Matter rally (although I think, at this point, Mayor Pete might be more credible). To Buttigieg’s credit, his campaign has been camped out at South Carolina HBCUs for weeks now but the committee thinks his chances with black voters might be about finished.
#6: Sen. Cory Booker
ISO: Tall, bald or balding light-skinned black guy from the Northeast with a stellar educational background, a penchant for Wall Street, with political ambitions and strong dad vibes. No this is not the OkCupid ad that Rosario Dawson put out to meet Cory Booker, but it’s close. This is the description of Deval Patrick, who, by entering the race, potentially makes Booker as redundant as a backup flip phone. Booker has branded himself as the happy campaigner but he’s never been on solid polling ground and if Patrick is going to snatch anyone’s corner it’s Booker’s. This week, Booker shouted out Founder’s Day for Omega Psi Phi, implored Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to delay the execution of Rodney Reed and he, along with Kamala Harris, spoke out against the Comcast Supreme Court discrimination case. Booker continues to campaign, but at this point he’s running on vegan fumes.
#7: Spiritual Guru Marianne Williamson
What’s that I smell, the faint whiff of patchouli and hemp hair oil in the wind? Could it be Marianne Williamson is back? According to Marcus, any presidential candidate who puts out ads specifically calling for reparations in South Carolina for two weeks deserves to get back on the Power Rankings. It’s worth noting, most committee members say that out in the real world, most black folks, especially black men, are more excited about Andrew Yang’s universal basic income plan than they are about reparations. Probably because while both plans are unlikely, if black folks got reparations it’d only be a matter of time before we’d all be wearing masks and having shootouts with the Seventh Kalvary. Although, to be honest, given the rise of white nationalism and gun violence under Trump, we aren’t too far from that now.
#8: Former Vice President Joe Biden
Michael “Stop and Frisk” Bloomberg literally came into the race last week apologizing for one of his most racist criminal justice policies (at a black church, of course), but Joe Biden still can’t take any responsibility for damage caused by the 1994 crime bill. Now this week, Biden says he won’t push to decriminalize marijuana, which has resulted in the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of black men and women for non-violent crimes, because he still thinks weed is a “gateway drug”?
It’s time to face facts about the Biden campaign; he’s up to 44 percent of black support in South Carolina but his policies and his positions (outside of his HBCU plan, which is actually fire) are mostly the same centrist garbage that has not helped black people in the face of a white nationalist presidency.
Biden may not have a black man problem the way that Warren, Harris or Mayor Pete obviously have, but his polls are tumbling harder than Simone Biles and there are but so many barbershops he can dap it up in before he’s going to have to convince Dre, Ray-Ray and Malik that voting for a 70-plus-year-old-white man is worth their time. Biden is the heir to Obama’s legacy in the same way that La Toya is the heir to the Jackson legacy, in name and proximity only, because the skills and the thrills just aren’t there.
#9: Former Gov. Deval Patrick
You know what black people have been waiting for? Eddie Murphy’s new standup special on Netflix. Black Panther 2. The annual trending #ThanksGivingClapback. WorldStar footage of Diamond and Silk getting into a wig-snatching chicken sandwich melee at a North Carolina Popeyes. You know what black people haven’t been waiting for? Deval Patrick. Patrick makes the ranking because 1) we are focusing on black men this week and 2) he has the potential to challenge Joe Biden and eliminate Cory Booker as the centrist but black heir apparent to respectability politics wing of the Obama legacy. Mind you, I also have the “potential” to beat Floyd Mayweather in a street fight. Doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Patrick has no money, no infrastructure and he pulled a Nicki Minaj for his now ex-brother-in-law after he was accused of rape. On the other hand, his South Side, Chicago-by-way-of-Bain Capital resume is the worst remix since the polka version of “Old Town Road.” Good luck, Deval; you’ll need it
#10: Former Attorney General Eric Holder
You know Eric Holder is looking at Deval Patrick, Joe Biden and Julian Castro and thinking that he can do this too, right? There have been rumblings that Holder really wants to get into the presidential race as well; the committee has no idea what his constituency is, but we do know one thing: Holder has a better criminal justice record than Trump, Biden and Harris that might drive black men and women to give him a look. Also, the committee really just wants to see a debate with Holder, Patrick, Harris, Booker and Castro. At some point, the cameras will catch them all huddled in the corner during a commercial break, laughing loudly at some joke only for Warren to walk up and ask what’s so funny, and everybody stops laughing and gets quiet, and Castro breaks the silence by saying “Oh…Uh, you wouldn’t get it Liz” and she walks away to that sad Charlie Brown music, and then they all start laughing again. We need to see that happen.