‘Old, Male, and Pale’: 2020 Democrats Under Pressure to Hire Minorities

Laura Barrón-López and Alex Thompson, Politico,


In a departure from past elections, Democratic hopefuls are methodically hiring people of color to oversee their operations. Julian Castro, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have all brought on black or Latino campaign managers.

Democratic candidates are well aware that an all-white and male inner circle won’t be tolerated by the base anymore. But there are also practical considerations at work: Black and Latino voters could sway primaries in critical early voting states like South Carolina, Nevada and California. And as the base of the party grows more diverse, Democratic operatives and pols say, 2020 candidates need advisers who can communicate effectively with key voting blocs.

“It’s important that our staff looks like America,‘ said Harris‘ campaign manager, Juan Rodriguez, who is Latino. {snip}

Prominent black and Latino lawmakers in Congress, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are paying close attention. Top of mind is the fact that President Barack Obama surrounded himself primarily with white staffers in the White House. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders did much the same when hiring the high-level advisers who made up their 2016 campaign brain trusts.

“The CBC has for some time now become extremely nosey as it relates to the staff that members who seek higher office bring aboard, because if they can’t get that right we have very little hope that they’ll do anything else right,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).


Outside groups such as Latino Victory and the National Urban League and NAACP are also keeping tabs on which candidates place staffers of color in high-level jobs, according to multiple Democratic aides.

Some Democrats have questioned whether there are enough experienced minority staffersto be hired across what’s expected to be a sprawling 2020 Democratic field. But Democratic operatives and lawmakers say any candidate who tries to excuse a lack of diversity as the result of a small talent pool won’t be taken seriously. Candidates, they say, need to be willing to consider people who haven’t worked on presidential campaigns before, too.

Castro’s campaign manager, Maya Rupert, who is African-American, worked in social justice before joining the Texas Democrat’s team at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Castro served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama.

“Being willing to accept different types of experience and understanding how they translate is critical for being able to recruit and promote people of color,” Rupert said.


Chuck Rocha, who heads the Latino-owned Solidarity Strategies consulting firm, advised [Bernie] Sanders in 2016 and is expected to join the Vermont senator’s team if he runs again.

“In most presidential campaigns, the diversity ends where the real money begins,” Rocha said. “It’s a good first step to put people of color in leadership positions. But who is really running the campaign? The consultants and advisers who make all the real financial decisions, and this group normally is very old, male, and pale and not reflective of the Democratic primary voter who you want to reach.”

In a race to snatch up top talent, 2020 candidates are asking minority operatives, outside groups and lawmakers in swing states for hiring advice. Rodell Mollineau, a longtime Democratic strategist, said he’s getting “lots of calls” from presidential campaigns looking for people of color. Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) is in regular talks with 2020 candidates as they form their ground operations in his state, which holds its Democratic primary early. Horsford has advised candidates that to win they must have senior staff and consultants who come from minority groups — including LGBTQ, Native-American and Asian-American communities.

“They have no excuse not to hire Latinos,” said Mayra Macias, vice president of Latino Victory Fund. “We can unequivocally say that the path to the White House is through the Latino vote.”


Rupert said part of Castro’s decision to pay interns a $15 minimum wage is to ensure diverse candidates have the opportunity to work on a presidential campaign and to build an applicant pool for future cycles. Too often, Rupert said, campaign positions are out of reach for minorities who disproportionately come from lesser means.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who has received phone calls from multiple presidential candidates, scoffed at the idea that any Democrat would try to run for the White House without a diverse brain trust.

“It’s politically unacceptable for a Democratic candidate to not have a diverse staff,” Butterfield said. “Anyone who fails to understand that is not a serious candidate.”

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