The Note: Race returns to forefront of Democratic race

"Black voters are pissed off and they’re worried," Sen. Cory Booker said.

The TAKE with Rick Klein

Blame the muted tone of Wednesday night's debate on the weighty issues that dominated the day back in Washington.

But before the debate ended, key reminders emerged that speak to explosive issues that remain unresolved in the Democratic primary race.

High on that list is race -- specifically, the ability of particular white candidates to connect with African American voters in a way that gets reliable Democrats engaged. Sen. Cory Booker jump-started a conversation -- started by Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday -- by highlighting what it means for former Vice President Joe Biden to oppose marijuana legalization.

"Black voters are pissed off and they're worried," Booker said.

In response, Biden said, "I come out of the black community in terms of my support."

Then he wrongly stated that he is supported by "the only African American woman that's ever been elected to the United States Senate." That statement forgets Harris.

But it's not just hard-to-spin comments driving a new conversation around race. The debate took place in Georgia -- a state considered to be ground zero in voter-suppression efforts -- and featured Mayor Pete Buttigieg among the new front-runners, answering for how he can relate to black voters.

Democrats have a bit of an awkward truth to confront about their field. For all the historic diversity in the 2020 field, the top four polling candidates are all white.

The hope among Harris and Booker campaign aides, among others, is that they now get a chance for another look.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

After hearing explosive testimony on Wednesday, congressional investigators will interview two witnesses on Thursday morning to round out a week of public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry.

Fiona Hill, formerly the top Russia specialist on the National Security Council will testify, along with David Holmes, a State Department aide who says he overheard a phone conversation between Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and President Donald Trump in late July.

While at the White House, Hill would have been front and center in the president's foreign policy deliberations. In her closed-door testimony she told lawmakers that she expressed her concerns regarding the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to then-national security adviser John Bolton.

As his former supervisor, Hill will also likely be asked about Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified earlier in the week. The White House suggested Vindman had a credibility issue, but Vindman read a glowing personnel evaluation from Hill that was written over the summer.

Expect Holmes to be asked about the call he overheard and, specifically, about the date it occurred. The president has repeatedly argued that he told Sondland over the phone that he wanted "no quid pro quo," but that conversation between the two took place much later than the call Holmes overheard, according to witness testimony.

The TIP with Kendall Karson

Former President Barack Obama made a rare foray into Democratic politics last week, seeking to deter a push to the left as the candidates gear up for the critical months before early voting begins. But the one-time leader of the Democratic Party might not have any plans to return to the sidelines: on Thursday, he is expected to headline a fundraiser with party donors near San Francisco.

After spending the last 11 months quietly watching from afar, Obama moved off the bench to caution the field -- without mentioning any candidates by name -- against moving too far left and potentially alienating moderate voters because the eventual nominee will need to topple Trump.

"The average American doesn't think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it. And I think it's important for us not to lose sight of that," he told a room full of Democratic donors, according to the Associated Press. "They want to see things a little more fair, they want to see things a little more just. And how we approach that I think will be important."

He steps in as a voice of reason amidst a still-unsettled primary contest, tempering some of the contenders' eagerness to win the nomination with litmus tests and keeping the focus on defeating his successor. His next appearance, only a day after the fifth Democratic debate, gives him another opportunity to weigh in on the 2020 race with, perhaps, newer urgency.


Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was President Donald Trump's handpicked dealmaker on Ukraine, according to his fellow impeachment witnesses. On Wednesday, he testified publicly for the first time under subpoena. In the evening, Laura Cooper, a top Pentagon official, testified that her staff told her they were contacted by Ukrainian embassy officials about the status of the Ukraine aid the same day as the July 25 phone call with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Here are the key takeaways from Wednesday's hearings.


ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Thursday morning's episode features ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce, ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and ABC News Chief Legal Analyst Dan Abrams breaking down the highly anticipated testimony of Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Then, ABC News Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks has the highlights from Wednesday night's Democratic debate in Atlanta.

ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" Podcast. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick wasn't on the stage Wednesday night in Atlanta for the fifth Democratic debate, but he vowed in an interview on ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast to "earn my way" onto future debate stages. "I understand that I have to earn my way onto that stage, and that's what I'm trying to do," Patrick told ABC News Political Director Rick Klein.


  • President Donald Trump will present the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal at 3:30 p.m. in Washington.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., attends the Black Women Power Breakfast at 8:30 a.m. in Atlanta.
  • Tom Steyer, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. deliver remarks at the National Action Network's Southeast Regional Conference beginning at 8:45 a.m. in Atlanta.
  • Fiona Hill, former Russia expert for the National Security Council, and David Holmes, political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, appear before the House Intelligence Committee on day 5 of the public impeachment hearings, beginning at 9 a.m.
  • Former Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., hosts a town hall at 9 a.m. (CST) in Des Moines, Iowa. He then attends a Heartand StartUp event at 2 p.m. in Estherville, Iowa. Later, he leads a town hall at 7:30 p.m. in Des Moines.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., joins Fair Fight Action at 10:15 a.m. in Atlanta for a phone and text bank to notify voters and help them stay on the rolls.
  • Marianne Williamson delivers remarks at the Revelations Cafe at 12:30 p.m. (CST) in Fairfield, Iowa. She then hosts a town hall at 6:30 p.m. in Des Moines.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., leads a rally at Morehouse College at 12:30 p.m. in Atlanta.
  • Andrew Yang hosts a fundraiser at 6 p.m. in Atlanta.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., delivers remarks at Clark Atlanta University at 6 p.m. in Atlanta with special guest Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden hosts a town hall at 6:30 p.m. in Greenwood, South Carolina.
  • Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro delivers remarks at the "El Chisme 2020" conversation series at 7 p.m. (CST) in San Antonio.
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, leads a town hall at 7 p.m. in Hudson, New Hampshire.
  • Former President Barack Obama attends a fundraiser for Democratic National Committee in Los Altos Hills, California.
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