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Opinion: The Real Electable Democrat Is Kamala Harris

Winning in 2020 requires energizing black voters, just like the last Democrat to win an election did. That's what the "electability" discussion should be about.

Posted on May 7, 2019, at 3:38 p.m. ET

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A bad idea is running amok in the Democratic primary — the conversation on “electability.” Thanks to the disappointing 2016 presidential election results, electability for many strategists can now be interpreted simply as “the white male candidate who is best suited to defeat Trump.”

That’s precisely the wrong way of looking at things, and it’s based on the mistaken belief that the path to victory in 2020 only requires winning back Trump supporters. It misses the much larger issue at hand: Democrats simply won’t stand a chance in 2020 if we can’t energize African American voters.

The truth is, too many voters who supported President Obama in 2008 and 2012 made a choice to stay home in 2016. In Wayne County, Michigan – home of Detroit, where Kamala Harris gave a speech addressing the “electability” conversation on Sunday – 37,000 fewer voters turned out in 2016 than 2012. The county is 40% black. Given that Hillary Clinton lost Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes, it is reasonable to assume this turnout drop cost Democrats the state.

It’s worth remembering that the last “electable” Democrat won by energizing African Americans, young voters, suburban voters, progressives, and Latinos. He was uniquely positioned to make the argument most central at that time: We need change. He also was a black man named Barack Hussein Obama.

In her speech in Detroit, Harris highlighted the communities that the current “electability” narrative often excludes – voters of color and women. And to the chagrin of many Democratic strategists, Harris challenged the shallow myth that white voters will only vote for white candidates.

She also declared, correctly, that she is the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump in a general election.

Anyone who witnessed Harris questioning Attorney General William Barr could certainly imagine how she would fare on a debate stage with Trump. The Democrat at the top of the ticket will be running against a president whose numerous failings are overwhelming, and when it comes to the most important qualities they should possess, prosecutorial skill ranks high.

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign became so consumed with the controversy du jour that it was dizzying for them. The 2020 candidate must be able to build a salient, effective, disciplined case against Trump — and who better to do that than a career prosecutor?

Democrats also need a candidate who can excite and inspire. Harris’s historic candidacy and bold platform — which includes giving every working American up to $500 a month through a massive middle-class tax cut, raising teacher pay by five figures, and guaranteeing universal health care — are the perfect mix to energize our base.

She offers a unique personal history, agenda, and skill set that makes her the perfect candidate for what may be the central qualification of this race: Can you take the fight directly to Trump? I suspect she would gut him just like she did Bill Barr.

Kamala Harris is speaking strongly about the need for us to give voters credit. Don’t put people in a box. You become “electable” by winning, and Kamala Harris has never lost one. She seems pretty electable to me.


Bakari Sellers practices law with the Strom Law Firm in South Carolina and is a political commentator at CNN.

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