The Center for Popular Democracy Action, an influential network of progressive community organizations, announced Tuesday that it has narrowed down the number of presidential contenders it is considering for an endorsement: Julián Castro, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
The political arm of the Center for Popular Democracy, which is composed of 41 groups representing low-income and working-class Black and Latinx people, plans to issue its first-ever presidential endorsement in early December. It will reflect its belief on which candidate inspires low-income voters of color the most and is best equipped to deliver on progressive priorities, such as criminal justice reform, immigration reform, “Medicare for All” and a Green New Deal ― key planks in the organization’s federal policy platform.
The coalition’s imprimatur is likely to be an asset for candidates in the early primary states of Nevada and California, which are home to several of its member organizations, as well as the general-election battleground states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
“It was Castro, Warren’s and Bernie’s responses that really struck home for our network and our affiliates,” said Natalia Salgado, political director of CPD Action. “The core thing, the moral compass for us, throughout this whole process, is our federal platform, which is all of the issues that matter to our affiliates.”
CPD Action’s board and staff came up with the shortlist from a wider array of candidates topping the polls at the time of its July conference: former Housing Secretary Castro; Sens. Sanders of Vermont, Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey; former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and former Vice President Joe Biden. It graded all eight of the candidates based on their policy positions and their willingness to engage with the organization’s evaluation process.
Sanders, Warren and Castro all received an A. Biden and Harris, whom the group claims declined to engage at all, got an F. Booker and Buttigieg received a C, and O’Rourke, who dropped out earlier this month, got a D.
Each of the 41 member organizations, which include state affiliates of the immigrant rights group Make the Road, will get a single vote to decide which of the three finalists to endorse. A candidate must obtain a majority of the 41 votes to earn the endorsement, leaving open the remote possibility that the network will not endorse anyone.
Even as prominent labor unions with closer ties to the Democratic establishment have been slower to back particular presidential candidates in the 2020 election cycle, newer and more independent progressive groups have been eager to weigh in.
The Working Families Party, which shares some of CPD Action’s member organizations, endorsed Warren in September. The blessing provided Warren with something of a shot in the arm since it represented a break with the group’s support for Sanders in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The backing of CPD Action could amount to a similar coup for its chosen candidate.
For one thing, the network and its member groups have developed a reputation for some of the most pugnacious activism in the liberal landscape, suggesting it would bring considerable grassroots mobilization to its preferred candidate.
The network’s Local Progress project created a nationwide progressive caucus for like-minded municipal lawmakers; its Fed Up campaign mounted the first left-leaning movement to pressure the Federal Reserve; and its bird-dogging of senators during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh became a rallying cry for the resistance to Kavanaugh’s elevation. Ady Barkan, the ALS-stricken attorney who conceived of many of the group’s most innovative initiatives, has become one of the country’s best-known and most compelling advocates for Medicare for All.
“We are going to lend all of our political weight to that ― that includes media and digital support. Once we’ve endorsed, we’re going to create an in-state strategy within each state where we’re going to throw down, focus our fundraising on places we think are critical for the candidate to win,” Salgado said. “We’re going to use that network to bring in bodies from noncompetitive states like New York into competitive states.”
But more than any one issue or activism tactic, CPD Action plans to amplify the voices of low-income communities of color, which play a marginal role in the earliest stages of the presidential primary process. Iowa and New Hampshire, which host the first-in-the-nation caucus and primaries, respectively, are overwhelmingly white. Liberal activists ― and at least one 2020 candidate, Castro ― have lamented the outsize role the two states have on the nomination process given how unrepresentative they are of the demographics of the country, to say nothing of the diverse Democratic primary electorate.
CPD Action’s endorsement is also something of a counterweight to those Democratic campaigns and strategists who progressive activists fear have been insufficiently attentive to the potentially decisive role of increasing Black and Latino turnout in the key states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. They worry instead that Democratic candidates and consultants are focused on catering to the largely white swing voters who backed former President Barack Obama in 2012 and President Donald Trump in 2016 to the exclusion of infrequent voters in communities of color who are more predisposed to back Democrats.
“What makes us unique in comparison to other organizations is that you have people who are going to have a say in this who live in the most highly incarcerated ZIP code in the country in Milwaukee,” Salgado said. “You’ve got undocumented workers in Virginia who otherwise aren’t legally allowed to vote but are going to have a voice in our process. You’ve got even some white folks who feel disaffected by what’s going on in this country who are going to have a say in this process.”
“It’s a super powerful way to go into this presidential process by having people like that that the Democratic Party has always said, ‘Ehhh, I don’t know ― (A) we legally can’t talk to them, or (B) I don’t really want to waste our time on them,’” she added. “And we’re saying no, they’re worth the time.”