Washington Post: A new emphasis on race and gender in Democratic debate

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Washington Post: A new emphasis on race and gender in Democratic debate

Racial justice and gender equality, issues important to a large and increasingly vocal bloc of the national electorate, finally made it to the presidential debate stage in Tuesday’s face-off between the candidates for Democratic nomination.

“I believe in equal pay for equal work for women,” Hillary Rodham Clinton declared in her opening statement.

“Black lives matter,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said, in response to a question.

Black Lives Matter, the national movement that has drawn attention to the deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of law enforcement, was mentioned briefly in the first Republican debate in August and not at all in the second one last month. And no mention was made in either GOP debate about gender pay equality, an issue that flared anew this week when actress Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay addressing the fact that she made significantly less than her male co-stars in the award-winning “American Hustle.”

But those issues, along with references to support for paid family leave, protecting LBGT rights and extending such benefits as health care and in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, came up many times during Tuesday’s 2 1/2 hour discussion on CNN. The mentions won instant applause on social media from activists who represent various parts of the coalition that fueled President Obama’s wins in 2008 and 2012. Those groups – voters of color, women, young people – are crucial not only to winning the Democratic primary, but will need to be energized and mobilized if the party wants to win the White House next year.

The Republican Party, after losing badly among women and African American, Hispanic and Asian American voters in the last two cycles, has said it wants to improve its standing with those groups. The GOP field — with two Hispanics, an African American, an Indian American and at least three candidates in their 40s — is far more diverse than the all-white, over-50 group of Democrats. But the candidates have tailored their messages to curry favor with the GOP’s overwhelmingly white and increasingly hard-line conservative base.

That has meant talk of cracking down on undocumented immigrants, downplaying the role of racism in society and threatening to repeal the Affordable Care Act and place more restrictions on abortion — all positions that are at odds with voters have who supported Obama.

Pay equity and family leave are standard planks in Clinton and Sanders campaign speeches. Activists from the Black Lives Matter movement have pushed both candidates, along with former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley to embrace both the language and the tenets of their cause, which include acknowledging and addressing institutional racism in addition to economic inequality.

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