Eight Democratic contenders for president made competing appeals before an influential civil rights group Friday in Manhattan, each seeking to stake out positions important to black voters and stand out in a packed primary.
There was much overlap in their condemnation of policies fueling systemic racism and in their proposed solutions to close the racial divide. But they took different tacks in addressing the National Action Network convention, hosted annually by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Some spotlighted key proposals in their platforms, noting how they would lift up black Americans, among others.
“When we truly have justice in our country, it will mean that we have economic justice, we will have housing justice, and we will have educational justice,” Sen. Kamala Harris of California said, detailing her proposal to increase teacher pay.
“You don’t get what you don’t fight for. Big structural change is worth fighting for,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said, after making her pitch for universal child care and early education.
For the candidates, the national convention of politically active African-Americans was an opportunity to test their messaging to voters of color early in what promises to be a fraught presidential election cycle. The eight hopefuls who spoke Friday followed five others who addressed conventiongoers earlier in the week. In the Democratic primary, there were 17 contenders who had announced their bids or were in the exploratory phase, as of Friday.
Harris, Warren and others — including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey — on Friday used elements of their standard stump speeches.
And nearly all said they would support a bill by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) to establish a commission to consider reparations as an atonement to African-Americans for generations of slavery.
Gillibrand, whose remarks to conventioneers mostly tracked the ones she used in her campaign kickoff rally, said the conversation about reparations is "long overdue."
Additionally, nearly all lamented the state of the country under President Donald Trump.
“It gives me no pleasure to tell you that we have a president today who is a racist, who is a sexist, who is a homophobe, who is a xenophobe and who is a religious bigot,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said.
Sanders, who has polling and fundraising leads over others who have declared their candidacy, said he would address racial inequities within the more general economic inequities.
Several people attending the conventionpete said they haven’t yet decided whom to support in the 2020 presidential race, but said they wanted the candidate with the best chance of defeating Trump. Many said they would back former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading in polling but who has not declared whether he will throw his hat in the ring. Biden was not among the speakers in the National Action Network lineup this year.
Also addressing the convention Friday were Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, newly declared candidate Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Earlier in the week, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland; former U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang spoke.