It’s becoming a dilemma wrapped in a conundrum for Senate Democrats running for election and trying desperately to keep their seats: How to woo the black vote and at the same time keep their distance from President Obama who is extremely unpopular with white voters.
Obama’s approval rating among white voters was an abysmal 31% in September compared with 54% when he took office.
But do they have any shot at winning their states without locking down the demographic most loyal to the president?
That’s the tightrope these Dems must walk while trying to further their political careers. And it is the balancing act that could help Democrats hang on to the Senate.
Republicans need six seats to win the Senate. According to the Wall Street Journal, “African-Americans make up roughly 30% of the voting rolls in Georgia and Louisiana and 22% in North Carolina. Black voters are a smaller but sizable constituency in Arkansas.”
Tharon Johnson, co-chairman of the Democratic campaign in Georgia and regional director for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, describes the situation to the Journal this way, “We’re going to mobilize that core Obama coalition, but without Obama.”
The Journal also notes, “Southern Democrats are counting on targeted advertising, the party’s voter-contact program, and rallies headlined by first lady Michelle Obama, the Congressional Black Caucus, and, possibly, former President Bill Clinton.”
Monday, Oct. 6, is the last day to register to vote in Georgia, and African American elected officials and pastors are pulling out all the stops, including civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis who is holding a rally to encourage voters to engage.
For the first time in state history, some African American counties in Georgia will offer early voting on a Sunday, which is criticized as a shady effort to get God-fearing black voters to the polls.
Three candidates, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, North Carolina’s Sen. Kay Hagan, Georgia Senate candidate Michelle Nunn, and Arkansas’ Mark Pryor are already walking the tightrope with the spotlight beaming down on them.
Some senators are publicly criticizing the president’s policies. And get this, the Journal reports, “When Mr. Obama visited New Orleans last year, Ms. Landrieu rode with him on Air Force One but didn’t join him on the ground. After the White House said the president would travel to North Carolina in August, Ms. Hagan promptly criticized his oversight of veterans’ affairs, though she greeted him at the airport.”
So will the strategy of shunning the president work in the long run, or backfire? Some experts reason that it may be futile for these candidates to try to appease voters who won’t vote for them anyway.
Mr. Obama received 93% of the black vote nationwide in 2012, according to exit polls. That was the first presidential vote in which a higher percentage of black voters than white voters turned out, 66.2% versus 64.1%, according to the U.S. Census. Voting by African Americans and other Democratic constituencies typically ebbs in midterms, however.
The Republican National Committee has reportedly sent staffers dedicated to African American “engagement” to 14 states, including Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
Interestingly, the Journal notes that, “The Congressional Black Caucus is raising issues white voters won’t hear on television. At churches and campaign events, African American leaders are invoking Republican opposition to reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., and sporadic calls to impeach the president.”
Says Orlando Watson, communications director for black media with the RNC, “Democrats should be held accountable at the ballot box this November. They’ve squandered the black vote and don’t deserve another cycle of failure. Black America deserves better. This president has failed to deliver on campaign promises at every level – from job growth and educational opportunities to affordable, accessible healthcare. Our message of opportunity and economic empowerment is resonating with black voters, and we believe, will ultimately pay off with increased political support.”
These races are getting nasty and the elections are heating up. With the Senate truly up for grabs, the black vote may well and truly be the one factor that may keep Democrats with a majority in the Senate.