There are nearly two dozen people running for the Democratic presidential nomination. One big question for voters is how diverse the party ticket will — and should — be. Should the party nominate a white male candidate who appeals to white working-class voters? Or must the Democratic leadership reflect its increasingly diverse base?
One way the white men hoping to secure the Democratic nomination have tried to address this tension is by speaking often about subjects that resonate with minority voters, promising to pursue solutions to the problems that disproportionately hurt people of color.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks often about income inequality and has made the wealth gap between black and white Americans central to his “economic justice” platform. Before entering the race, former vice president Joe Biden acknowledged that his support for the 1994 Crime Bill, legislation that harshly punished drug users, was a big mistake.
During his 2018 Senate race, former congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas defended the right of NFL players to kneel during the national anthem to protest racism, a moment that went viral. As a presidential candidate, he has called for an investigation into an encounter between a police officer and Sandra Bland, a black woman who died days after being pulled over by a Texas state trooper.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), the brother of two police officers and the son of a police officer, spoke on CNN about being sensitive to the challenges law enforcement faces while recognizing some officers’ abuse of black Americans.
“I also recognize the experience in America, especially for young black men and the fear they have of police because of abuses against that community,” he said. “And I have a perspective I think that can reverse that, working with others to reverse that.”
Swalwell spoke about the need for police departments to reflect the demographics of the communities they serve and to distribute grants only to departments where officers wear body cameras. “I am just convinced that we have to address racial injustice in this country,” he said, speaking in favor of sentencing reform, decriminalizing marijuana and investing “block by block in communities that are too often forgotten.”
At a CNN town hall Sunday, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) cited racism as the reason Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, lost her race to become America’s first black female governor. Abrams has accused opponent Brian Kemp, then Georgia’s secretary of state, of suppressing votes, including the ballots of people of color.
“If this country wasn’t racist, Stacey Abrams would be governor because people of color are being systemically denied the most basic right in a democracy, which is the right to vote,” Moulton said. “That’s why we need a new voting rights act in America.”
Other white male candidates have promised to choose a vice president who reflects the diversity of the country. At the CNN town hall with Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), CNN anchor Poppy Harlow asked the Democratic lawmaker, “Whether you are on the ticket or not, are you comfortable with an all-white, all-male ticket for the Democratic Party in 2020?”
“No, absolutely not,” he replied. “And I — we have to — our ticket and the next president’s Cabinet must reflect the diversity of the country, and I’m committed to do that.”
Many white male candidates are working to show they can represent the interests of people of color. Will that be enough to convince voters hoping to elect someone who looks different from all but one of the past presidents?