Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.
Perhaps it was the violent history of the state, once the lynching capital of the country. Perhaps it was the size of the black population, the largest percentage of any state in the country. Or maybe it was just the glimmer of hope that barriers could finally be broken in Mississippi, which had resisted breaking them for so many decades.
But for Democratic organizers, civil rights activists and African-American elected officials, Mike Espy’s loss in the Mississippi Senate race on Tuesday cut deep.
“Being a son of the South, I’ve worked all my life to try to make the South a much better place for all of its citizens,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, the morning after Mr. Espy’s defeat. “We’re still working on that.”
As several African-American Democrats now weigh campaigns for the presidency in 2020, it’s worth pausing to consider how 2018 turned out for leading black candidates and some of the challenges they faced.
Across the country, black candidates broke records this election cycle. A historic number of African-Americans will enter the House this year, including the most black women ever. Their ranks include eight black candidates who won in majority white districts.
In Nevada, the incoming attorney general, Aaron Ford, is the first African-American to win a statewide executive office. And in Wisconsin, Mandela Barnes will be the state’s first black lieutenant governor.
But in some of the highest-profile races, mostly in the South, efforts to elect black Democrats came up short. Along with Mr. Espy, in Florida, three other contenders — Andrew Gillum in Florida, Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Ben Jealous in Maryland — fell shy of winning the governor’s mansions. In Michigan, a black Republican, John James, lost in his bid for the Senate.
Mr. Gillum, Ms. Abrams and Mr. Jealous would have been their states’ first black governors — and the only black governors in office in the United States. And had Mr. Espy won in Mississippi, he would have been the first African-American to represent his state in the Senate in nearly 150 years.
Race was an inescapable factor in three of the races. Mr. Gillum’s opponent, Ron DeSantis, opened his campaign by warning voters not to “monkey this up,” by electing Mr. Gillum. In Georgia, Ms. Abrams and her campaign complained vociferously about voter suppression tactics by her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, that they said disproportionally impacted minority voters, and likely cost her the election.
And in Mississippi, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who defeated Mr. Espy, came under fire for saying of a supporter, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” She later apologized to “anyone who was offended” by the comment.
President Trump added to the racial undercurrent, eagerly lobbing insults packed with innuendo at all three candidates. He called Mr. Gillum “a thief” and said Ms. Abrams was “not qualified.” Of Mr. Espy, the president wondered: “How does he fit in with Mississippi?” — a strange question about a man whose grandfather built the state’s first black-owned hospital.
Organizers and political strategists who are working to build the infrastructure to promote black candidates say that gains were made, even as they fell short of victory. Yvette Simpson, the incoming executive director of the progressive group Democracy for America, says the campaigns of all three candidates will make it easier for black and brown candidates in the future.
“They won the hearts of the country,’’ said Ms. Simpson. “They got as close as anybody’s ever gotten. It wasn’t a win but it was certainly a victory.”
The outlook for minority candidates is likely to get clearer next year, when multiple black Democrats could be running for president.
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senator Kamala Harris of California have been traveling the country, making fairly overt steps toward launching 2020 campaigns. And friends of Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts, and Eric Holder, the former attorney general, say they are seriously considering bids.
Of course, America has recently had a black president. But the country has never seen a field of multiple black candidates running for the highest office, never mind doing so at a time when a majority of Americans believe race relations have gotten worse.
What will that look like? Seems like we’re about to find out.
Whirlwind White House
It’s been a crazy week at the White House (isn’t it always?) with an approaching economic summit, new revelations in the special counsel’s investigation, and a mini-forest of very red Christmas trees. We asked White House correspondent Katie Rogers for an update on how things are going at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.:
Frankly I’m struggling to know where to start. President Trump continues to heap his plate with a head-spinning amount of press interviews and tweets, even as he heads to Argentina today for talks with leaders of some of the world’s largest economies.
He spent the first part of the flight rearranging his schedule in real time as he receives briefings on foreign policy, including Russia’s latest military aggression with Ukraine, and stewing over Michael Cohen’s admission that he was involved in plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow well into the 2016 presidential campaign. With Russia-related news swirling about, Mr. Trump canceled his meeting with Vladimir V. Putin, the president of Russia.
Before leaving, Mr. Trump said Mr. Cohen, his former longtime fixer, was lying and called him a “weak person” compared with “other people that you watch,” a not-so-subtle reference to, say, someone like Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign manager.
In some ways, though, it’s just another Thursday at the White House. Staffers have told many of us that they’ve become so conditioned to taking incoming that not much shakes them. If anything, a trip to Argentina gives those back at the ranch a momentary breather.
Of course, other craziness looms.
Corey Lewandowski, the president’s former campaign chief — the one not in jail — is debuting his new book, “Trump’s Enemies,” at the Trump International Hotel in Washington tonight. The book, co-written by David Bossie, a former campaign deputy, explores what the authors (and the president) claim is a vast network of deep state operatives fixated on spying on the commander-in-chief. Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani are expected to attend, because why not add to the festive atmosphere?
On top of all of that, there’s the usual office politics we all deal with, just on steroids: The West Wing, which has already seen a steady trickle of departures this year, is bracing for another aide’s departure. Jordan Karem, the director of Oval Office operations, plans to leave by the end of the year. He has the distinction of being the president’s so-called body man, and some of his more behind-the-scenes duties, among other chores, was to inform John F. Kelly, the chief of staff, who was calling the president and when.
Anyway, that’s what I have for you as of 3:29 p.m. Trump Standard Time.
• John Kerry tells Harvard students that he’s “going to think about” running for president.
• Elizabeth Warren, who’s done more to prepare than perhaps any other potential candidate, laid out her foreign policy vision in Washington. “It’s your generation that will live with the consequences of the decisions being made today, she told an audience at American University.
• Beto O’Rourke was invited to speak to the New Hampshire Young Democrats organization, CNBC reports.
• He’s not running! New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’s “ruling it out,” in an interview with WNYC.
• The Willamette Week reports that Senator Jeff Merkley has “quietly asked” state legislators to change a law barring running for two offices at the same time, allowing him to run both for senate and president in 2020.
• Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be in Des Moines next week for a screening and discussion about his new film on climate change.
Can’t get enough of 2020 hedging? Matt Flegenheimer, a New York Times political reporter, is here to help, with the definitive guide to all the thinking, mulling, weighing, considering and wondering.
What to read tonight
• A new twist in the special counsel investigation: Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, admits in court to engaging in negotiations over building a Trump tower in Moscow well into the 2016 campaign.
• The ten best books of 2018, ranked.
• The Miami Herald delivers a detailed investigation into how Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta helped arrange a light prison sentence for the Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein after the sexual assault of dozens of young girls.
Nancy Pelosi is jumping for joy. But first she has to take off her heels, of course. Want to know more? Read our take from the Democratic leadership elections.
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