The Hill’s Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage

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Welcome to The Hill’s Campaign Report, your weekly rundown on all the latest news in the 2020 presidential, Senate and House races. Did someone forward this to you? Click here to subscribe.

We’re Julia Manchester, Max Greenwood and Jonathan Easley. Here’s what we’re watching this week on the campaign trail. 



CALLS FOR DIVERSITY: As a number of Democratic presidential hopefuls scramble to meet the qualifications for the December debate stage, some contenders are calling out the stage’s lack of diversity, saying it reflects a growing problem within the party. 

Six candidates have qualified for the debate so far, all of whom are white. 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) slammed the absence of diversity on the debate stage this week, pointing specifically to Sen. Kamala Harris’s (D-Calif.) exit from the race. 

“I’ve seen the bile, the anger, from my family members, to people in the Congressional Black Caucus, to leaders of color across this country who just don’t understand how we’ve gotten to a point now where there’s more billionaires in the 2020 race than there are black people,” Booker told BuzzFeed’s AM to DM earlier this week.

Harris, who qualified for this month’s debate, dropped out of the race earlier this week, citing financial difficulties. 

“I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign,” Harris wrote in a Medium post. 

The comments from Harris and Booker were in reference to billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, who have largely self-funded their campaigns. 

Steyer, who qualified for December’s debate, called on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to change the debate requirements so more candidates can participate. 

“Democrats need to engage voters from every part of the country, and that means making sure voters hear from a diverse group of candidates before they select our nominee,” Steyer said in a statement. 

A number of candidates of color are working to make the December debate. 

Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have hit the fundraising requirements to qualify for the debate but have yet to hit the polling threshold. 

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and entrepreneur Andrew Yang have also hit the fundraising threshold but need a fourth qualifying poll to make the stage.

The Democratic Party has touted itself as a big tent party and welcoming to minorities. 

However, recent comments from Booker and other candidates about diversity in the field could force them to take a second look at the debate stage qualifications. 

–Julia Manchester 



Democrats voice frustration at plight of black, Hispanic presidential candidates, by The Hill’s Jonathan Easley.



ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST: Facing dwindling polling numbers and an increasingly dire financial situation, Harris announced this week that she would suspend her presidential campaign, making her the first top-tier candidate to bow out of the race for the Democratic nomination, The Hill’s Reid Wilson and Jonathan report.

In an email to supporters on Tuesday, Harris conceded that she did not have the resources to finance a successful campaign: “I’ve taken stock and looked at this from every angle, and over the last few days have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life. My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue,” Harris wrote. “I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign. And as the campaign has gone on, it’s become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete.”


ENDORSEMENTS: Former Secretary of State John Kerry endorsed Joe Biden’s presidential bid on Thursday, calling the former vice president “uniquely the person running for president who can beat Donald Trump” in 2020,” Max reports. The endorsement was Biden’s second from a former Obama administration Cabinet secretary. Tom Vilsack, a former agriculture secretary and Iowa governor, backed him last month. Kerry is set to campaign with Biden in Iowa on Friday before traveling to New Hampshire with the former vice president on Sunday.

Biden wasn’t the only one to pick up the endorsement of a former Obama administration official this week. As Julia reports: South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg picked up endorsements from three former Obama administration officials on Thursday, including from the former president’s body man, Reggie Love. Buttigieg also scored endorsements from the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Austan Goolsbee, and the former communications director for the White House Office of Health Reform, Linda Douglass. 


BILLIONAIRES: With former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s late entry into the Democratic nominating contest, the primary field has witnessed an influx of billionaire money, Max and Jonathan report. Together, Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, the billionaire philanthropist, have spent upwards of $100 million so far, with much of that coming in only the past couple weeks. But while that money has bought them valuable airtime, it also opens them up to criticism from 2020 rivals who have accused the two billionaires of trying to buy the Democratic nomination.


IN DEBATE NEWS: Steyer will join five other candidates on the debate stage in L.A. on Dec. 19, Max reports. His campaign announced on Tuesday that he had surpassed the Democratic National Committee’s 200,000-donor qualifying threshold. Before he hit that mark, he had already met the polling criteria, scoring at least 4 percent in surveys of voters in Nevada and South Carolina. (Note: Harris had qualified for the December debate before she ended her campaign this week.)



J.T. Young: Steve Bullock exits: Will conservative Democrats follow?

Grady Means: Progressives’ campaign strategy: Willful ignorance

Red Jahncke: Don’t count out Michael Bloomberg — his unconventional strategy might work

Liz Peek: Nice guy Joe Biden should retire from presidential race

Jamal Simmons: Impeachment can’t wait



GEORGIA SENATE: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a hard-nosed conservative in his own right, bucked President Trump this week by appointing Kelly Loeffler, a wealthy finance executive, to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Max reports. The decision opened up a rift between Kemp and allies of Trump, who had pressed the Georgia governor to tap Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, for the seat.

The appointment sets the stage for a wide-open special election in 2020. Election handicappers rate the race as a likely win for Republicans. But Democrats, energized by Stacey Abrams’ near win in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election, are convinced that the state is moving in their favor and are plotting a course to flip Isakson’s seat next year. They don’t have a clear favorite in the race just yet; only one Democrat, Matt Lieberman, has declared his candidacy for the seat. Nevertheless, they’re hoping to capitalize on internal strife within Georgia’s Republican coalition to boost their chances, Max reports.

Of course, with her Senate appointment, Loeffler will have some advantages going into the special election. She has the full backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) – and the campaign resources that come with it. She’s also planning to tap into her vast personal fortune to fund her campaign. People familiar with her plans say that she will spend at least $20 million of her own money on her election bid next year, Max reports.


NORTH CAROLINA: Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) is eyeing potential primary challenges against two fellow Republicans next year as court-ordered redistricting in North Carolina throws his own political future into uncertainty, The Hill’s Scott Wong and Reid Wilson report. In recent weeks, Walker’s campaign has commissioned polls testing his chances against Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and fellow Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) in primary contests. Indeed, there may be an opening in North Carolina’s Senate race. Tillis ranks among the least popular senators in the country, and his only prominent primary opponent, Garland Tucker, ended his campaign on Monday.



Spending on political advertising is set to explode in 2020, with a new analysis from the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics estimating that the total will approach $6 billion. More from Reid: The analysis “estimates that campaigns will spend almost twice as much on broadcast and cable TV ads as the amount spent during the 2016 presidential campaign cycle. And a new emphasis on digital advertising, aimed at reaching those who watch little to no conventional television, is likely to add another $1.6 billion.”


Bloomberg’s outsized ad spending climbed even higher this week as the former New York City mayor dropped tens of millions of dollars more on a new national ad buy, the Associated Press’ Steve Peoples reports. His campaign did not provide an exact figure for the new ad blitz, but reportedly described it as comparable to the initial $37 million buy he placed last month. The new ad casts Bloomberg as a fighter and the candidate as uniquely positioned to defeat Trump, a message that gets at the heart of what Democratic voters by and large say is their No. 1 priority in 2020.



There are 59 days until the Iowa caucuses, 67 days until the New Hampshire primary, 78 days until the Nevada caucuses, 85 days until the South Carolina primary and 88 days until Super Tuesday. 



THE FORCE IS STRONG: It was only a matter of time before a 2020 contender caught on to the internet sensation that is Baby Yoda, and Julián Castro stepped up to the plate this week. 

The former Housing and Urban Development secretary tweeted an image from the popular Disney Plus series, “The Mandalorian,” in response to a tweet from Nate Silver, who said “If the Democratic Party wants a field that’s representative of its members and its voters, it probably shouldn’t have two states as white as Iowa and New Hampshire vote first every year.”



Castro has expressed his support for switching up the Democratic contest calendar, arguing that Iowa and New Hampshire do not reflect the diversity of the U.S. 

“Demographically, [the early states are] not reflective of the U.S. as a whole, certainly not reflective of the Democratic Party, and I believe other states should have their chance,” Castro told MSNBC last month. 

“That doesn’t mean that Iowa and New Hampshire can’t still play an important role,” he added. “But I don’t believe that forever we should be married to Iowa and New Hampshire going first.”

But don’t tell that to voters in the Hawkeye and Granite States. The Iowa caucus has been the first contest in the race for the Democratic nomination since 1972, while New Hampshire became the first in the nation primary in 1920. It doesn’t look like that will be changing anytime soon. 

Come back next week with all of the latest campaign news in the run up to Iowa and New Hampshire! 

Have a great weekend! 


Tags Andrew Yang Cory Booker Donald Trump Doug Collins Joe Biden John Kerry Johnny Isakson Mark Walker Michael Bloomberg Mitch McConnell Pete Buttigieg Steve Bullock Ted Budd Thom Tillis Tom Steyer Tom Vilsack Tulsi Gabbard

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