Running from Race is Hard in the Presidential Race

New Orleans       It’s Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, so what better time to talk about the still unresolved, raw issues around race that continue more than 150 years after his death.  Evidence abounds that you can’t run from issues around race, as we examine increased scrutiny of Democratic presidential candidates, and their forced confrontations with the issue to their peril.

Former Mayor Peter Buttigieg has borne the brunt of a number of recent commentaries over his comments late in his term in the small city of South Bend, Indiana that he was surprised to find the level of segregation in the local schools.  A racialized killing involving a cop brought him off the campaign trail while he was still mayor to deal with the crisis to less than rave reviews.  His abysmal polling at around 6.6% in the latest 538 summary indicates he’s a very tough sell outside of the white castles of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Minnesota’s Senator Amy Klobuchar is having to answer questions about her time as prosecuting attorney in the Twin Cities and her role in the conviction of an African-American teenager that remains a controversy.  Her law and order claims have had to confront questions about how she handled race in the overwhelmingly white St. Paul / Minneapolis area.  Another white settlement in the spotlight problem.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is appropriately finding it hard to paper over the years of damage his top-of-his-lungs advocacy of destructively racist stop-and-frisk policies by the police with a simple apology.  The fact that it was racial profiling is beyond debate.  The fact that it led to huge incarceration rates of black and brown New Yorkers during his many terms in office is also beyond dispute.  Millions of dollars in television ads has bought him a 7.8% showing in South Carolina so far, just as billionaire Tom Steyer’s millions have him now standing at 10%, but those numbers don’t indicate that all is forgiven, all is forgotten.

Senator Bernie Sanders faces some of the same dilemma with all of his political experience coming from snow white Vermont.  The Census Bureau still classifies Vermont as the whitest state in the country with somewhere between 95 and 96% of the population easily lost in the winter there.  In Vermont, it’s a white-in, not a white-out, when a winter storm breaks.  Sanders has worked hard to offset his inexperience with race, and his experience in the primaries in 2016 and now again in 2020 shows that he has made some progress perhaps but still runs far behind former Vice-President Joe Biden, who has dealt with race by embracing President Obama in a bearhug and constantly citing their eight years together.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren isn’t having to sweep up mountains of problems in her past record, but clearly has not been able to catch fire with African-American voters yet either.  She may continue to be damaged in the kerfuffle of her claims to Native American heritage there.

African-Americans are the largest, most unified voting block in the Democratic Party.  Ambition may trump everything else, but how can any candidate believe they can win in the primaries or against Trump without uniting black votes and dealing aggressively in every way possible with the issues of race?

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