HomeBad Ass AsiansTuesday's Democratic debate will lack color

Tuesday’s Democratic debate will lack color

Yang Campaign Photo

Views from the Edge

The flaws in the Democratic primaries work against candidates of color running for president. As a result, the Democrats’ January debate, just weeks before the Iowa Caucus, won’t have any Asian, Latino or African Americans. 

Renewed concerns about dwindling diversity in the presidential field are brewing among some Democrats after Julián Castro, the lone Latino candidate running, announced the suspension of his campaign last week. His announcement followed Sen. Kamala Harris’ dropping from the race after Thanksgiving.

The remaining candidates of color, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, have until Jan. 14 to qualify for the Jan. debate.

The Democrats had to figure out a way to winnow down the two dozen presidential aspirants — the most ever to run for any political party’s nomination for POTUS — to help voters focus on the top candidates. They did this by requiring the candidates to meet certain criteria in order to qualify for the televised debates. number of donors and how they performed in polls, raising the ante after each debate.

The criteria worked against candidates who didn’t already have a national profile, which in this election season, included all the candidates of color. Not only did Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Julian Castro and Andrew Yang have to introduce themselves to a national electorate, they had spend too much time raising funds spread out among too many rivals. Then they target their limited funds in the early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa.

And …. as candidates of color, they had to compete in those first two states. Both of which have overwhelming White electorates who are certainly not representative of the Democratic voters nationwide.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 85% of Iowa’s population identifies as White, not Hispanic or Latino. Under 3% of the population identifies as Asian, 4% of the population identifies as African American and just over 6% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino.

After dropping out the race earlier this month, Castro told MSNBC, “The fact that you start your nominating process in two states that are – that are some of the whitest states that lack people of color — I mean, it is very ironic that we keep telling Black women, you`re our saviors… And at the same time, you start your nominating process of two states that hardly have any Black women, any Black people at all. It doesn’t make any sense.”

That’s what happened to Harris who saw the writing on the wall after failing to make any headway in New Hampshire, her campaigned changed their all-or-nothing strategy on Iowa but because there were so many candidates splitting the electorate, dwinding funds and the futility of running against multibillionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, who didn’t have to spend any time fundraising.

As a result, much to the chagrin of the Democrats, a party that touts its diversity, the debate Tuesday, Jan. 14, will have no candidates of color on stage. 

Only six of the remaining 13 Democratic POTUS candidates will take the stage in Ames, Iowa: former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; businessman Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. 
To qualify for the debate, the last one prior to the Feb. 3 Iowa Caucus, candidates needed to receive donations from 225,000 individual donors (with 1,000 donors in at least 20 different states, territories or D.C.).

In addition, candidates needed to hit 5 percent in four polls approved by the DNC, either nationally or in one of the four early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) or 7 percent in DNC-approved polls conducted in the early states.

That certainly put contenders at a disadvantage because pollsters apparently cut down their surveys after the last debate due to  the holidays.

Yang, who met the donation criteria, needed three more polls in which he had 5 percent of the respondents.

Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez turned down Yang’s request for the DNC to commission more polling to make up for a lack of surveys over the holidays.

“If the DNC had only done their due diligence and commissioned polls in the early states, Andrew Yang would certainly be on the debate stage next week. We are not going to allow the DNC to dictate who they wish to see as the nominee and deny the will of the people,” campaign chief Nick Ryan said in a statement emailed Saturday to supporters.

His email said that after the DNC refused Yang’s request, he commissioned his own polling by companies the Democratic Party has used before.

“The unbiased feedback showed that Andrew Yang is on the rise and at 5% in Nevada and New Hampshire,” the email said.

“The issues that will decide this election, and the future of our country, are too important to ignore for the sake of staged political bickering. The DNC tried to run this same play in 2016 and they paid for it with a loss in the general,” Ryan said.

Booker, who hasn’t qualified for a debate since November argued the debate stage won’t reflect the Democratic party.

“I don’t doubt that the rules our party set were well-intentioned, but the outcomes are undeniable: These thresholds have effectively kept people of color from the national stage,” the African American senator wrote.

He added, “Meanwhile, the billionaires in this race have been able to spend literally hundreds of millions on ads. This shouldn’t be about who has the most money,” referring to Steyer, 62, who qualified a day before the deadline last week because of the surprising results of Nevada and South Carolina polls where the multi-billionaire hedge-fund manager spent $23 million in political ads aired in those two early voting states.

Booker also met the necessary number in donations but failed to register 5% in any polls. Gabbard couldn’t meet the donor or poll requirements. Yang, Booker and Gabbard continue to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire.

As in many other things in our country, White privilege is so deeply embedded in our institutions, it can’t be recognized when its in plain sight.

Watch the Democrat’s debate on CNN, which is hosting in partnership with the Des Moines Register. It is being held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 14 at 9 p.m. ET. It is the last primary Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.

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