This week at the party’s sixth debate in Los Angeles, entrepreneur Andrew Yang was the only person of colour on the stage. Others – including Cory Booker, Julian Castro and Deval Patrick – are still contesting, but did not qualify for the debate stage.
With all the leading candidates being white, and with senator Kamala Harris having dropped out because she was unable to raise enough money to compete, demands have intensified to reform the primary process and allow candidates of colour to compete more fairly.
“The elephant in the room last night during the debate was the fact that virtually all of the candidates of colour have been wiped out by the rules, the restrictions and the norms governing this process, but for Yang,” Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told Democracy Now.
Ms Clarke, added: “I think that this is a moment that requires us to press pause and have a conversation about money in politics, about racially polarised voting patterns in our country.”
Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer for the immigration rights group RAICES, said the need to perform well in the first two states to vote, Iowa and New Hampshire, which are predominantly white, was not helpful
“It has a huge impact on how they’re trying to cater to the first states. And most of them spend most of their time in Iowa right now, where there’s — there is a community,” she said.
“There is a Latino community. There is a very small community of people of colour, compared to Nevada and other states. But it makes a difference in the way that they are really talking about the issues.”
This is not the first time there have been demands to replace Iowa and New Hampshire with somewhere more representative of the nation. Some officials in Texas, which has a large minority population, believe it should be the first to vote.
“What people are going to be looking for in a candidate in a largely white state is going to be different to a place like South Carolina or Nevada,” says Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, a group that works to promote the political power of women of colour, told The Independent last month. “It’s a structural racism question, because Iowa has an outsized voice in trying to winnow the field, and it’s a poor reflection of the multiracial democracy a lot of us are committed to building.”
Both Mr Booker and Mr Castro have criticised the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for its qualification process.
After Ms Harris dropped out, Mr Booker told reporters: “What message is that sending, that we heralded the most diverse field in our history, and now we’re seeing people like her dropping out of this campaign, not because Iowa voters had the voice”
He added: “There’s more billionaires in the race than there are black people.”
Mr Castro said: “Anybody without the resources to self-fund is at a disadvantage. The DNC should evaluate the threshold with regard to number of donations, and also think about how we’re going to ensure that the future of our politics doesn’t just belong to billionaires who can self fund campaigns.”
The DNC has no plans to change its rules. It told Politico: “The DNC has led a fair and transparent process and even told campaigns almost a year ago that the qualification criteria would go up later in the year.”
This week Mr Yang was asked how he felt being the only person of colour taking part in the debate.
“It’s both an honour and disappointment to be the lone candidate of colour on the stage tonight,” he said. “I miss Kamala, I miss Cory – although I think Cory will be back.”