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Democratic 2020 candidates appeal to women of color, Black mayors’ group during She the People forum

PATRICK SVITEK | 5/5/2019, noon
Texas’ biggest city was at the center of the 2020 presidential race April 21 as a group of Democratic candidates ...
The audience listens at the She the People Presidential Forum at Texas Southern University in Houston. Eight Democratic presidential candidates attended to answer questions Wednesday. – Photo by Michael Stravato/The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune

HOUSTON – Texas’ biggest city was at the center of the 2020 presidential race April 21 as a group of Democratic candidates descended here to appeal to a key voting bloc in the primary.

Appearing at Texas Southern University, a Historically Black College and University, eight candidates made their pitches at a forum hosted by She the People, a national network of women of color. The three-hour event was one of the biggest gatherings yet of the Democratic primary candidates in the country, let alone in Texas.

Taking questions from moderators and the audience, the candidates covered a range of issues that have already animated the primary – health care, criminal justice and voting rights – while sharpening their cases for how those issues impact women of color. The massive 2020 field is historically diverse, and most participants faced the same question at the end of their time onstage: Why should women of color choose you?

One of the candidates from Texas, Julián Castro, sought to make a personal connection.

“I am only here because of two very strong women,” the former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor said in reference to his Mexican immigrant grandmother and his civil rights activist mother. “I grew up seeing both the struggles and the promise of two strong women of color, and I have dedicated my time in public service to making sure that people just like my mother and grandmother can do better in this country.”

For some candidates – particularly those who are neither women nor people of color – the forum at times appeared to be a humbling experience. The other hopeful from Texas, Beto O’Rourke, paused before answering why women of color should back him, acknowledging that their support is “not something that I’m owed, not something that I expect” but “something that I fully hope to earn by the work that I do on the campaign trail.”

O’Rourke cited a number of prominent Black women in politics that he has learned from – including Houston U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a fellow Democrat who has a bill to study reparations that he and several other candidates support.

Other candidates felt some heat as the moderators and the audience sought to keep them focused on the people who had come to listen. Asked how he’d win over women of color who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., initially responded by making a broad promise to unify the party no matter who the nominee is. Some in the crowd did not sound satisfied with the answer. A moderator pressed him to speak specifically about women of color, who he then said are an “integral part” of his campaign and would be just as important in his administration.

Rounding out the lineup was U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who got one of the most enthusiastic receptions of the afternoon as she interacted with fans in the crowd and repeatedly promised, “I have a plan.” One of those plans was making medical providers create a pay structure that incentivizes them to bring down the disproportionately high rate of women of color who die during childbirth.