While California Sen. Kamala Harris has continued to downplay certain aspects of her past as a prosecutor, questions lingered about how well the presidential candidate might fare among Black male voters. MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid hosted a panel discussion Sunday morning about whether Harris has “a Black man problem” because of her controversial records as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general.
Harris was in Iowa over the weekend highlighting diversity in meetings with the Asian & Latino Coalition, the League of United Latin America Citizens and the Iowa Democratic Party’s Black Caucus, the Des Moines Register reported.
Reid saw a silver lining to Harris’ past as a prosecutor, noting that while people see her in “the criminal justice lane … it’s also one of her selling points.”
But Jason Johnson, politics editor for the Root, disagreed with the latter, insisting that Harris’ record on criminal justice was “the Achilles’ heel” of her presidential campaign. He went on to explain that Harris was on record as advocating using prison labor to fight forest fires in California and she implemented a truancy policy that some say was a school-to-prison pipeline that has disproportionately affected Black people, especially males.
“If she can’t find a way to reconcile the problems with her criminal justice record with the policies that she says she wants to implement as president, she’s not going to get through a primary,” Johnson added.
Tiffany Cross, managing editor of The Beat DC, did him one better.
“Quite honestly, Sen. Harris has a Black man problem,” Cross said while pointing to Harris’ newfound support for progressive policies (police body cams and marijuana legalization, for example) that were previously absent from her prior platforms.
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“Specifically, Black men — blue-collar Black men — they’re gonna have a problem with her record,” Cross continued. “I think that the African-American community expects more from people who look like us. She needs to find a strong Black man advocate who can be in her corner at some point on the campaign … to be a validator for her.”
Johnson doubled-down on that sentiment.
“Let’s just be candid. When you’re saying that she needs to have an advocate out there for her, it’s not going to be her husband,” who is white, he said. “She’s gotta surround herself with African-American men.”
Johnson also said that Harris will be competing against New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker for the Black vote during primaries, and they could end up canceling each other out with that coveted demographic.
“[I]n a primary, if both Booker and Harris are running and both of them have viable candidacies — which is another requirement — then black men are likely to defect from Kamala at a noticeable rate,” Theodore R. Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the New York Times last month.
Watch the full panel discussion below.
A lot of folks on Twitter both disagreed with and supported the notion that Harris had a so-called “Black man problem.” See a brief sample of the raging Twitter debate below.