Recent news that Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D.-Ill.) is endorsing former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg is the latest reminder that members of the Congressional Black Caucus appear more divided in their support for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates than during any other primary election in recent history. And earlier this month, Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) not only endorsed former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg but would become his campaign’s first national co-chair.
Other members of the CBC — one of the most influential groups in Democratic politics — have endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in addition to Biden, Sanders, Bloomberg and Buttigieg. And before suspending their campaigns, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), former housing secretary Julián Castro and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also received endorsements from black lawmakers.
Seeing different black lawmakers back different candidates isn’t particularly surprising to Rhonda Foxx, a candidate in North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District who has worked for several.
“Black lawmakers are not a monolith,” she told the Fix. “Members are looking at the diversity of the candidates, the different perspectives of those candidates and making strategic and diverse decisions based on the growing constituency.”
And seeing black lawmakers come out to support an array of candidates — particularly those who don’t have much backing among black voters — has the potential to encourage black voters, arguably the most influential voting bloc on the left, to consider candidates they may have previously overlooked, Foxx said.
“I look at it and say, ‘This member supported that candidate. And I know this member is firm on this issue, so this candidate must be,’” she said. “It drives me to do my own research.”
The endorsements have been more widely spread in 2020 for a couple of reasons. The candidate field — originally more than 25 candidates — and the CBC — now more than 50 members — are among the largest in Democratic primary history. With more candidates and more lawmakers than ever, the diversity of political thought appears to be wider, which gives representatives more options to get behind.
During the 2008 Democratic primaries, the endorsements of black lawmakers were spread out over just four candidates. Just nine Democrats were competing in the primaries at that time. And in 2016, CBC endorsements went to just two of the Democratic candidates.
Although nine candidates have received current endorsements during the 2020 primary, it’s worth noting that most endorsements have gone to Biden — the candidate leading with black voters. This should be of little surprise, given that many black lawmakers in Congress worked with Biden when he was vice president to the country’s first black president and when Biden was a lawmaker himself. And many appear to think, as most other black voters do, that he has the best chance of defeating President Trump.
But despite that, the most influential endorsements for candidates might not be those that come from black lawmakers, but from black mayors — leaders of cities with large black populations, said Bakari Sellers, a CNN political analyst and former state legislator who previously interned for a black lawmaker and a black mayor. This might suggest that political power and influence in black America could increasingly be shifting from Washington to the cities where black voters actually live.
“Black mayors are slightly more valuable, I think,” Sellers told the Fix. “A lot of the black lawmakers haven’t had a race in 10, 15, 20 years, while a lot of the black mayors are on the ground. They know the people and they actually have legitimate networks, which is why you saw a huge battle for [Birmingham, Ala., Mayor] Randall Woodfin, [Atlanta Mayor] Keisha Bottoms, [Charlotte Mayor] Vi Lyles, [Little Rock Mayor] Frank Scot and [Columbia, S.C., Mayor] Steve Benjamin.”