Multiple Democratic candidates for president were in Indianapolis July 25 for the National Urban League Annual Conference to make their case to voters for why they should become the party’s nominee for the 2020 election. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tim Ryan and John Delaney had 10 minutes for opening remarks and then took questions for five minutes from Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Biden, who served as vice president under Barack Obama, consistently polls the highest with African Americans. As has been the case throughout the early stages of the campaign, Biden went after President Donald Trump more than the other candidates.

“Today I believe we’re in a battle for the soul of America,” he said.

Biden criticized the president for refusing to condemn white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and said he didn’t imagine such a march being possible. As part of a plan to decrease the wealth gap between white and Black Americans, Biden said he would undo the Trump administration’s tax cuts, eliminate some tax loopholes and provide free community college.

Booker touted his experience as mayor of Newark from 2006 to 2013 and said he would be able to build relationships as president. Booker challenged those who worry about a Democrat’s “electability” as they gear up for a fight with Trump, the likely Republican nominee, implying it’s a disingenuous argument that discounts what African American voters want.

He warned that the Democratic nominee won’t win if they can’t “inspire, connect with and earn the trust of” African American voters.

Booker also said voters should be pushing candidates to explain what they did to advance civil rights before running for president.

“Don’t tell us what you’re going to do,” he said. “Tell us what you’ve already done.”

This came a day after Booker called Biden the “architect of mass incarceration” at the NAACP convention in Detroit. That’s been a common criticism of Biden, who helped write the 1994 crime bill that experts say was a catalyst for mass incarceration.

Booker said as president he would “dismantle a system of mass incarceration,” “increase access to capital” in communities that need it most and “massively increase affordable housing and deal with the challenges of gentrification.”

Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, was asked about what she would do for criminal justice reform. Her suggestions included police body cameras, doing more DNA reviews and videotaping interrogations. Klobuchar said prisons should not see the same person twice, and she would make it a “major priority” for the Department of Justice to have more of a say in civil rights cases.

Ryan, who amused the crowd by walking out to “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Johnny Cash, said the key to overcoming issues such as wealth inequality and winning back the White House for Democrats is racial unity. He referenced Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, when thousands of poor whites and Blacks rose up against Virginia Gov. William Berkeley.

“Here we are today, how many years later,” Ryan said, “and we still have this huge concentration of wealth in the United States.”

A multi-racial poor people’s coalition and criticizing the top 1% sound like leftist talking points, but Ryan emphasized he doesn’t want to think of this campaign as left versus right, preferring instead to frame it as finding ideas that are “new and better.”

Delaney, a former businessman and representative from Maryland, said he’s lived the American dream but realizes that it was unfair from the beginning, since it’s much more likely for a white man to climb the socioeconomic ladder than it is for other races. He said that won’t change until there are “transformative investments in the communities that are left behind.” One of those transformations would be creating nonprofit banks that could invest in impoverished communities without the pressure of turning a profit.

Delaney made his appearance on the heels of a report in Axios that his team urged him to drop out of the race by mid-August. Delaney, who became the first Democrat to enter the race two years ago, has been polling between 0% and 1%.

All candidates committed to proposing and passing legislation within their first 100 days in office to restore elements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has been weakened over the years. They also were critical of Russia for the country’s influence in the 2016 election and accused Trump of not taking the threat seriously.

Indianapolis has become a popular destination for national politicians recently, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi headlining the Young Democrats of America’s annual convention July 19. She was joined by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

Buttigieg will be part of the second presidential plenary July 26, which will also feature other presidential candidates including Sen. Kamala Harris. That begins at 8 a.m.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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