Democrats spent more than $50 million this cycle to ensure that white candidates won the party's Senate nomination in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Texas. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of the hopes and dreams of qualified black candidates attempting to bring more diversity to Congress.
White candidates Amy McGrath in Kentucky, Cal Cunningham in North Carolina, and MJ Hegar in Texas received early backing from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which helped them win primary races against qualified black opponents.
McGrath, who has raised $41 million in her pointless bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), narrowly defeated black state lawmaker Charles Booker in June after winning the DSCC's endorsement in February.
Prominent Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) endorsed McGrath as early as July 2019, when McGrath first announced her candidacy. Warren, a BIPOC politician best known for saying whatever she thinks will make her more popular with wealthy white liberals, flip-flopped on her endorsement by backing Booker days before the primary and weeks after the death of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests against racial injustice.
In North Carolina, Cunningham handily defeated state lawmaker Erica Smith, a former Boeing engineer who attempted to become just the third black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. Cunningham was receiving financial assistance from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) since the moment he announced his candidacy in June 2019.
The DSCC officially endorsed Cunningham later that year, prompting a fiery statement from Smith. She alleged that Democratic leaders had promised her "unequivocally, that they were not, had not, did not intend to endorse in the primary." She denounced the DSCC's efforts to "sway this U.S. Senate election away from the voices and voters of North Carolina" as "unacceptable." At a campaign event in January, Smith suggested that "Sen. Schumer, for whatever reason, did not want an African American running for Senate in North Carolina."
Cunningham has raised almost $15 million and was assisted in the primary by VoteVets, a pro-Democrat super PAC that spent $6 million on ads supporting his candidacy. The DSCC pitched in $330,000 in ad spending, in addition to the $1.5 million it gave the North Carolina Democratic Party. Cunningham's victory was the realization of Schumer's dream to nominate a white candidate who would spend the entire campaign "in a windowless basement raising money" to fund attack ads against his opponent, Sen. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.).
Smith wasn't the only black candidate to complain about the DSCC's racial bias during the primaries. In December 2019, when the DSCC announced its endorsement of MJ Hegar, a white person running for Senate in Texas, the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats denounced the "disrespectful" attempt to "rig" the primary. The DSCC's endorsement came at the expense of black state lawmaker Royce West, who called it a "slap in the face" and accused party leaders of "trying to lock African Americans out of the process."
Last month, the same group of black Democrats denounced the DSCC again for trying to "cheat" West out of a chance to become the state's first African-American U.S. senator. The group, which represents thousands of black lawmakers in Texas, accused the DSCC of contacting donors and urging them not to support West's campaign.
"It's the same basic problem we have broadly speaking in America—whenever African Americans have an opportunity to advance, they get undercut," said Carroll Robinson, the group's chairman. "And it's sad that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is doing it, and I wish they would stop."
Hegar, who has raised $6.5 million in addition to the $3.4 million the DSCC already spent in Texas, defeated West on July 14 by just 4.2 points.
Many Democrats had hoped 2020 would be the year that qualified candidates of color finally got their chance to shine. Donors and party leaders apparently felt otherwise. They spent millions to keep black candidates from appearing on the ballot alongside presidential nominee Joe Biden, a 77-year-old white man.