The Iowa Caucus isn’t until Feb. 20. But the first Democratic presidential debates are this week in Miami and African-American voters are already taking sides in the rhetorical slugfest between former Vice President Joe Biden, at the top of the polls, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is trailing.
From now until next summer’s Democratic convention, contenders will be working hard to knock each other out of the political box in hopes of taking on President Trump in the general election and everything will matter in this political contest.
In Round 1, Biden recently told a crowd at New York City fundraiser that when he was in the U.S. Senate, “at least there was civility” between Democrats and Republicans. He went on to say that he even worked with segregationists like former Mississippi Sen. James O. Eastland. As a 29-year-old senator, Biden, now 76, recalled, Eastland “never called me ‘boy’ — he always called me ‘son.’”
The comment went viral as Biden was met with a firestorm of criticism; perhaps most notably from Booker, who called for him to apologize for even repeating the word “boy,” a racial insult endured by millions of Black men during Jim Crow segregation and beyond.
Booker said, “As a Black man in America I know the deeply harmful and hurtful use of the word ‘boy’ and how it was used to dehumanize and degrade.”
Whether or not Biden was attempting his own version of the Southern strategy, which fires up White voters at the expense of African-American candidates, he fired back on national television, saying Booker is the one who “should apologize” for injecting race and implying he meant something untoward.
“He’s knows better,” Biden said. “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
In the wake of Booker’s comments some members of the Congressional Black Caucus came to Biden’s defense and Rev. Al Sharpton invited Biden to his show on MSNBC where Biden said, “I do understand the consequences of the word ‘boy’ … but it wasn’t said in any of that context at all.”
At a time when African-Americans make up the largest voting block in the Democratic Party, Booker must navigate choppy political waters because he wants to stand as a champion of his convictions while at the same time not draw fire from older African-Americans who see Biden as the best person to beat Trump.
“I certainly wish that he hadn’t have said it,” Rep. Karen Bass of California, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN last week. “I certainly wish he wouldn’t have used that example. I think there’s a lot of other examples of where he has worked in a bipartisan fashion, but I would like to see us move on from there.”
While Biden met with members of the CBC last week, the real question is how much will their endorsement matter 12 months from now and will African-American women play a big part in who will be the next Democratic Presidential nominee.
Melanie Campbell, CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable, said the fight is on.
“You have 20 candidates and eight months before the primary,” she said. “No candidate has a lock on the Black vote.”
Campbell said she planned to be in Miami for both Democratic debates this week. But her biggest worry is the electoral process being compromised by outside forces whether it is the Russians, Americans or anybody else.
“We need to push the issue in terms of asking the candidates what they plan to do for Black America,” she said. “The role of Black women is paramount to any progressive candidate that wants to win and no one candidate has a lock on the Congressional Black Caucus or any other group.”
Campbell said that people of color have a chance to make a difference in this election if the political game is fair.
“There is a big concern about Democracy and the suppression of the Black vote,” she said.