After Sen. Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif., announced Tuesday she’s ending her campaign for president, some supporters were shocked and some megadonors were frantic, trying to get their recently donated money back.
But to many – including several other presidential candidates – the immediate reaction to her departure was what it meant for the Dec. 19 Democratic debate: namely, that the event may now have an all-white stage.
“I’m a little angry, I have to say, that we started with one of the most diverse fields in our history, giving people pride,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who is among the nonwhite presidential candidates who have yet to qualify for this month’s debate, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Tuesday night. “And it’s a damn shame now that the only African American woman in this race, who has been speaking to issues that need to be brought up, is now no longer in it.”
With the deadline to qualify days away, four white men and two white women have qualified so far, including former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, billionaire Tom Steyer, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who are both nonwhite candidates, each need one more good poll to qualify, whereas Booker, who is black, and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro haven’t hit 4 percent in any of the required polls. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is black, entered the race Nov. 14 and also does not have any qualifying polls.
For many critics, the question was how this historically diverse class of candidates has faded to white – at least on the national debate stage – before February’s Iowa caucuses. To Booker, part of the problem is that this cycle’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee’s qualifying rules are “preferencing millionaires and billionaires.” To Castro, the news media’s narrative on “electability” has also played a role – an issue he cited in part for both Harris’s downfall and the difficulties facing nonwhite candidates vying for a spot on the debate stage.
Harris had qualified for the debate, but cited a lack of funds as the main reason for her decision to bow out. In recent weeks, several news stories described internal turmoil and tense disagreements among staffers in her campaign.
Castro pointed to stories in the New York Times, Politico and The Washington Post, all of which questioned the health of Harris’s presidential bid after losing its early momentum and running into management issues. But in a videotaped interview posted to Twitter on Tuesday night, Castro argued the media’s treatment of Harris had been “grossly unfair and unfortunate,” and that Harris was held “to a different standard, a higher standard.”
Speaking more generally, he added on Twitter later: “The media’s flawed formula for ‘electability’ has pushed aside women and candidates of color,” he said. “Our party’s diversity is our strength, and it’s a shame that we’re headed for a December debate without a single person of color.”
Castro’s criticism stems from debate within the Democratic Party about which candidate is most equipped to corral support from a multiracial coalition of voters, as President Barack Obama did, while having the best chance at defeating President Trump. As The Post’s Philip Bump reported in a Tuesday analysis, 77 percent of black voters viewed Biden, Warren or Sanders as the most capable of beating Trump, according to a November Post-ABC News poll.
In a fundraising video Tuesday, Castro said he was still a few thousand donors away from meeting the DNC’s donor requirements for qualifying for the debate. The rules also require candidates to score in four approved polls over 4 percent, or two early state polls over 6 percent, and to have 200,000 unique donors plus a minimum of 800 unique donors in at least 20 states.
Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins, who also previously worked on former Democratic congressman John Delaney’s presidential campaign, told Fox News that he believed the DNC’s rules “ended up hurting” the campaigns of candidates like Castro, Harris and Booker because campaigns must spend “insane amounts” of money on donor lists in effort to meet the requirement. He worried that not having a person of color onstage would affect turnout, particularly among African American voters.
Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, an organization that advocates for electing women of color, worried about whether the candidates on the debate stage would resonate with black female voters. “It’s a sad state of affairs to have six white candidates onstage, many of whom don’t necessarily speak with black women – who are the powerhouse voters,” she told MSNBC on Tuesday.
Like Booker, Castro, in his fundraising video, also criticized wealthier candidates who “basically buy their way onto this debate stage.” In a fundraising email of her own, Warren also attacked billionaires Steyer and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, another recent addition to the Democratic race, while lamenting Harris’s departure.
“Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand – two women senators who, together, won more than 11.5 million votes in their last elections – have been forced out of this race, while billionaires Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg have been allowed to buy their way in,” Warren wrote. “Running for president shouldn’t be a passion project for bored billionaires.”
But some Republicans mocked Democrats’ concern that the field of candidates on the debate stage may be all white. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., made a quip on Twitter that critics called racist. Linking to a tweet listing the all-white lineup for the debate, Cheney wrote: “You forgot Pocahontas.” Using a favorite Trump nickname, Cheney was referring to Warren, who apologized earlier this year for identifying as Native American during her law career. (A spokesman for Cheney couldn’t immediately be reached for comment in response to the backlash.)
Others pointed out that Harris’s campaign faltered because of other problems, such as her record as a prosecutor. On Tuesday, Harris said she was “still very much in this fight.”
When Trump said he would “miss” her in an apparently facetious tweet, Harris responded: “Don’t worry, Mr. President. I’ll see you at your trial.”