Biden, Harris and Warren impress at NAACP Presidential Forum


Ten presidential candidates — nine Democrats and one Republican — spoke at the NAACP 110th national convention in Detroit on Wednesday, July 24, before a crowd of social justice advocates, civil rights leaders and freedom fighters. Former Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Cory Booker; Pete Buttigieg; Julian Castro; Sen. Kamala Harris; Sen. Amy Klobuchar; Beto O’Rourke; Sen. Bernie Sanders; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren were joined by Republican Bill Weld, former governor of Massachusetts.

The forum was moderated by White House correspondent and CNN contributor April Ryan. She questioned the candidates about their positions on the Eric Garner case, reparations for African Americans, relieving student loan debt and supporting historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Ryan also asked the candidates about their agenda for Black America.

Nathaniel Gagum, 60, of Branch, Pa., said when he came to the forum he was undecided, but left Wednesday's session impressed with Julian Castro, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Castro “was the first to have a Black agenda,” Gagum said. “The NAACP is majority Black. Therefore, you look at him first to take care of our people. One thing about Harris is she was talking about equality and we need jobs. With Biden, one of the points he made was that he's worked with HBCUs a long time ago. You've got to have experience.”

Ashley Gaines, 28, of Anchorage, Alaska was impressed with Biden and Harris.

“I came with an open mind. I wanted to see what they said and have them speak on the issues first,” she said. “I'm a little caught between Kamala and Joe, even though she may be the better candidate.”

Gaines said Harris impressed her with her stance on marijuana. During the forum, Harris pointed out that those who were locked up for selling marijuana are now excluded from participating in the billion-dollar cannabis industry.

Gaines also wants to know more details about Biden’s plans for criminal justice reform.

“He didn't support it in 1994 so I kind of feel like he flip-flopped again. We're going to see,” Gaines said of Biden. “I still favor Harris a little bit more. It's time to have a woman. It's such a male-dominated position. There needs to be some equality there.”

Ivan Scarborough, 55, of Freeport, N.Y., said he went into the forum torn between Warren and Harris. He left still divided between the two candidates, but said the NAACP’s format allowed him to be more informed of where the candidates stood on certain issues.

During the forum, candidates were given two minutes each for opening statements, followed by a 10-minute question and answer session with Ryan. They each had two minutes to make a closing statement.

“That type of forum was great because the information from the candidates was more important than a debate, where you pick one and they go against each other,” Scarborough said. “Everyone there delivered what I expected.”

Educator Lisa Thompkins, 52, of Detroit, also liked the forum format. The candidates, she pointed out, didn’t debate and had a chance to speak without sharing the floor with their rivals.

“I liked that it wasn’t about grandstanding,” said Thompkins. “In debates, the candidates like to feed off each other. If someone didn’t answer the question, April Ryan forced them to give an answer.”

Thompkins was undecided about who to vote for, so she made sure to attend the candidates’ forum. For her, Elizabeth Warren stood out as the strongest of the pack.

“This is my homework,” Thompkins said.

Warren spoke about “big structural changes,” including a tax on the wealthy, 3.2 million housing units for low-income and moderate-income families, and $50 million for HBCUs.

“She’s the one who had answers and who had plans,” Thompkins said.

For Sebastian Bonner, 31, of Atlanta, it was a toss-up between Warren and Sanders. Bonner liked Sanders’ charisma, but was also impressed with Warren. He noted that as a woman candidate, she can’t come across as too hard or too soft.

“Elizabeth Warren’s overall plans seem feasible,” said Bonner, who works as a sports and entertainment agent. He also noted that O’Rourke seemed more compelling in person than on television.

Like Bonner and others, Devont’e Kurt Watson of Albuquerque, N.M., hadn’t yet selected a favorite candidate. After the forum, the NAACP’s economic and empowerment chair for the New Mexico State Conference said he’s still exploring the issues and options.

“I’m looking at the key issues of the NAACP,” Watson said. “Justice, equality for all, reparations, closing achievement gaps and what comes out of slavery, the Jim Crow laws and what author Michelle Alexander calls The New Jim Crow. I’m looking at what the candidates are saying about those issues before I decide.”

Shannon Evans of Oakland, Ca., said she was excited to hear so much discussion about reparations during the forum, as well as talk about better housing, health education and more.

“I liked Mr. [Julian] Castro. I loved Joe Biden and I liked Kamala Harris,” Evans said. “I liked the idea of the general consensus on reparations. It’s nice they have so many ideas, but they’ve got to be realistic because somebody’s got to pay for it, and I don’t want to end up with a big bill.”

Daryl Murphy, president of the NAACP’s Sandusky, Ohio branch, said Biden and Harris were his favorite candidates in the forum.

Biden, Murphy said, did a good job of redeeming himself with the Black community after the issues of his former stance on busing and working with segregationists arose in the first debate.

“He did that, and I applaud him for that,” Murphy said. “We definitely have to get Trump out of office, so I want a ticket the people of America will vote for. A Biden/Kamala Harris ticket is a ticket America will vote for.”

Reporting by Natalie McNeal, Darren Nichols and Kimberly Hayes Taylor.

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The Crisis magazine is a quarterly journal of politics, culture, civil rights and history that seeks to educate and challenge its readers about issues facing African-Americans and other communities of color.

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