WASHINGTON — A new progressive group is hosting what it's calling the first-ever presidential candidate forum focused on women of color.
Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro have claimed the first of eight available spots in the April 24 forum hosted by She the People, officials told NBC News. All candidates have been invited to the event at Texas Southern University, a historically black school in Houston. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the most prominent woman of color in the 2020 field, has not yet told organizers whether she will attend.
"This forum will allow candidates to speak directly to one of the largest Democratic voting blocs — and most reliably Democratic — in the country ahead of a contentious primary," said She the People founder Aimee Allison.
She the People formed last year to give voice to women of color, many of whom feel taken for granted by the Democratic Party since they are underrepresented as candidates for office and in positions of power, even though they are among its most loyal supporters.
"No Democrat is winning the nomination, or the White House, without women of color," Allison said.
The candidates will take questions from an expected audience of more than 1,000 women of color.
Other questions can be submitted by those watching a livestream at events organized by partner groups across the country, including the Texas Organizing Project, Planned Parenthood Texas and union-like groups that organize restaurant workers and domestic workers.
Since the 2016 election, when 94 percent of African-American women voted for Hillary Clinton, black female political strategists and activists have publicly called for better representation in the party, forcing Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and others party leaders to respond.
The Republican National Committee, for their part, used news for the forum to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. over the controversy relating to her Native American ancestry, emailing this NBC News story to reporters to ask if Warren will "attend and share her experiences?" Warren has said she does not identify as a woman of color.
This is one of the first 2020 candidate forums, where contenders appear on stage one at a time, but many others are likely to follow. Debates, in which the candidates appear on stage together and are allowed to interact, will be less common, since they are tightly controlled by the Democratic National Committee.
Several liberal groups, including the Sierra Club, the Service Employees International Union, and Planned Parenthood Action Fund will host a forum on April 1, and the LGBTQ group the Human Rights Campaign will host another in October.