Prominent Black donors say they are unimpressed by the current circle of Democratic presidential candidates. The remaining field has failed to create a strong enough bridge between themselves and the African American community, leaving a gap when it comes to convincing Black voters to support them.
Although former vice president Joe Biden enjoys apparent African American support in the polls, largely driven by his association with former president Barack Obama, donors remain lukewarm about him as well as rivals like former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the last of whom emerged victorious in the New Hampshire primary and has set his sights on the South Carolina primary. Biden himself almost seems to be betting on that contest to boost his campaign, which has foundered so far during the primaries.
In a series of interviews with Politico, 10 prominent Black campaign donors say the mild outreach they’ve been getting from the candidates is creating concern because Black support is what each of them will need to oust President Trump from the White House come November.
“Black donors are sophisticated and they want to see candidates engage on a full-scale level. Right now, if I’m being transparent, I don’t think any of the candidates running are up for the challenge,” Quentin James, founder of The Collective PAC, a political action committee that fundraises for Black candidates, told Politico. “People are frustrated. I don’t know how else to communicate that.”
While Biden has managed to build a base among Black voters, his campaign has been warned that support could be fleeting. Greg Schultz, a Biden campaign manager, attended a campaign briefing in New York with a set of donors and one reportedly told him that his backing would only last as long as he looked like a winner. “As soon as they don’t think you can win, they’ll go missing,” the person said, according to people who had knowledge of the remark.
Meanwhile Buttigieg’s campaign managers are still puzzled as to what they can do to get through to the Black electorate. He is polling in the single digits among African Americans, dogged by a police shooting that occurred in his town while he was mayor. At a private breakfast with Black business community leaders, Buttigieg outlined his “Douglass Plan” to strengthen race relations, while also opening up about the shooting. The potential donors still weren’t thrilled.
“He has an almost unimaginable inability to connect with Black people," one person at the meeting said. That has been reflected in the well-publicized diversity trouble it has had within the campaign.
"We've got to work much harder to do a better job when it comes to making sure that that inclusion is a reality, especially in the Trump era. And this is an opportunity to live those values," Buttigieg said while recently campaigning in Iowa.
Bloomberg has stepped into a danger zone within the last few days as audio of himself apparently defending the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” policy that was implemented while he was mayor there surfaced. On Wednesday another video appeared, this time of him justifying racial redlining practices. He has apologized for his past comments and outlined a plan for both fair policing and equitable housing for Blacks. While his campaign is self-financed -- to the tune of $211 million -- he is still seeking guidance from Black donors and activists, said Politico. Among those are Tony Coles, CEO of Cerevel Therapeutics and Charles Phillips, board chair at cloud computing powerhouse Infor.
Still, political watchers, including South Carolina state lawmaker Bakari Sellers, once a supporter of Kamala Harris, told Politico the candidates have a long way to go before they have the kind of connection that would gain real traction.
“The fact is Amy Klobuchar, Buttigieg, [Elizabeth] Warren, and Sanders all do extremely poor with voters of color. And I don’t see that changing during this race,” he said, noting that he would still back Harris as vice president. “There still is a theory that Joe Biden may be the best one, but you know, it’s tough.”
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