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Criticism Of Iowa Caucus Ignores Black Voices, State Leaders Say

John Minchillo
AP Photo
Democratic presidential candidate and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (left) speaks as Sen. Kamala Harris of California listens during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University in October.

With California Sen. Kamala Harris out of the race, the next Democratic primary debate stage is set to feature the whitest lineup in the 2020 race yet, despite the historic racial and ethnic diversity represented in the current presidential candidate pool. 

At the time Harris announced plans to suspend her campaign, the debate stage was poised to feature an all-white slate of candidates. Businessman Andrew Yang, who is Asian American, has since qualified for the December 19th debate, cohosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico.

On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer sits down with a panel of African American leaders from across Iowa to look at the issues of greatest concern to black Iowans as the Iowa caucuses loom less than eight weeks away.

Also in the hour, guests weigh in on the debate over Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus status. Candidates including former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker have pointed to Iowa’s more than 90 percent white population as a barrier for some candidates campaigning in the state, and not representative of the rest of the nation. Guests say this argument underrepresents the voices of Iowa's black communities.


  • Betty Andrews, President of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP State Area Conferences of Branches
  • Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf
  • Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo
  • Izaah Knox, Executive Director of Urban Dreams

This post has been updated to reflect Andrew Yang's qualification for the December primary debate.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa