DETROIT — On her first visit to Michigan as a presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris suggested that the wider obsession with “electability” is leaving out black voters in the Midwest — and putting artificial restrictions on the kinds of voters a candidate can win over.
“There has been a conversation by pundits about ‘electability’ and ‘who can speak to the Midwest.'” Harris told a vast crowd of some 10,000 people at an NAACP dinner in Detroit on Sunday. “But when they say that, they usually put the Midwest in a simplistic box and a narrow narrative. And too often their definition of the Midwest leaves people out.”
“It leaves out people in this room, who helped build cities like Detroit,” Harris said.
The question of electability — namely, which candidate can beat President Donald Trump — has so far dominated the Democratic primary, especially in recent weeks. It has centered, especially, around which Democrats can win back places like Michigan, which Trump won by fewer than 11,000 votes, as well as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Polls show that many Democratic voters prize electability above all else. And they tend to think that white men are better positioned to beat Trump.
Harris, who is the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, sees a troubling gap between voters who say she is their first choice in the primary and those who say she is most likely to win against Trump.
In those same polls, it’s former vice president Joe Biden, who entered the race last month, who is routinely seen as the most “electable” candidate — in part because some believe he offers a chance for Democrats to win over white, working-class Midwesterners whom Democrats lost to Trump in 2016.
In 2016, though, when Hillary Clinton narrowly lost Michigan and Wisconsin, she also failed to bring black voters out at the same levels during previous elections.
In Detroit on Sunday, in front of a crowd that was almost entirely black, Harris put forward a different vision of electability: a candidate who can win the Midwest in part by energizing black voters, increasing turnout in diverse Midwestern cities like Detroit and Milwaukee — and by not limiting conceptually the kinds of voters a candidate can win.
Sen. Cory Booker has made a similar case for Midwestern electability. He, too, made his first visit to Michigan earlier this week, speaking at a conference of local black leaders in Detroit.
The conversation around electability, Harris told the crowd on Sunday, “too often suggests certain voters will only vote for certain candidates regardless of whether their ideas will lift up all our families. It’s shortsighted. It’s wrong. And voters deserve better.
“As a party,” Harris said of Democrats, “we can’t let ourselves be drawn into thinking in those boxes or falling into those assumptions.”