Democrats emerged victorious in key races in Kentucky and Virginia during yesterday’s off-year election. And, as voters nationwide went to the polls in a series of state and municipal contests, it became evident that this election cycle also served as a leading indicator on the nation’s political tenor leading up to the 2020 election.
One significant takeaway: Civil rights groups that underscored the importance of the black vote in state and local races continued to push voter registration and combat voter suppression efforts in communities of color. In fact, prominent activists met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a dinner at his Palo Alto home last night, in which election security was among other topics on the menu. Such activity will prove critical as focus shifts to next year’s presidential primaries and general election.
Democrats Make Gains in Key Races
Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi were among states with bellwether races. Democrats flipped both chambers of the Virginia legislature with its takeover of the state Senate and House of Delegates for the first time in a generation. The victory will position the party to control the next round of redistricting tied to the 2020 census.
In the Bluegrass State, Attorney General Andy Beshear narrowly defeated Trump-backed Gov. Matt Bevin, an extremely unpopular Republican who has refused to concede the election. Beshear was declared the winner with a margin of slightly more than 5,000 votes. The GOP, however, captured every other statewide office and made history with the election of Daniel Cameron as attorney general, the first African American to hold the position and to be voted individually to statewide office. Cameron has served as a former general counsel to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who may prove vulnerable at the ballot box next year.
Republicans also managed to maintain its grip on the statehouse in the high-stakes gubernatorial race in Mississippi as Attorney General Jim Hood was defeated by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves by seven percentage points despite election eve robocalls from former President Barack Obama. Moreover, Jennifer Riley Collins, a former military officer who served as head of the Mississippi Civil Liberties Union, lost her bid to become the first black woman elected to statewide office in the GOP stronghold. Her election would have provided the opportunity to challenge an 1890 Jim Crow-era election law. As Time reported during the race, candidates must not only win a majority of votes in the state but a majority of its 122 districts – only a third of which have a predominantly African American electorate despite the Magnolia State having the largest percentage of black voting age-citizens. If a candidate fails to meet that requirement then the statehouse decides the winner. The law was placed on the books during the state’s 1890 Constitution Convention in which its framers advocated securing “the state of Mississippi’s White Supremacy.”
Democrats will find out if Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards holds on to that statehouse in the Nov. 16 runoff election.
Tuesday’s results, however, greatly concerns the GOP and its prospects in 2020, especially at a time when Trump is enmeshed in an impeachment inquiry. Like the shattering impact of the 2018 House midterms, the outcome of Kentucky and Virginia reveals how the president’s track record helps galvanize the Democratic base.
Campaign to Protect the Black Vote
The Trump effect has spurred civil rights organizations to become even more vigilant in seeking a range of strategies to protect the franchise of African Americans. High-profile voting rights activists such as former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and former Attorney General Eric Holder have been at the forefront of eradicating state laws that diminish the clout of voters, particularly African Americans and other traditionally marginalized voters.
In fact, CNN reported that a group of prominent civil rights leaders, including National Action Network founder Rev. Al Sharpton, met with Mark Zuckerberg for an “important and robust conversation” on hate speech and political ads. According to the report, representatives from organizations such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and advocacy group Color of Change questioned Facebook’s policy that permitted politicians to run false ads, which has raised concerns among some Democratic presidential candidates and congressional members.
“The exemption for politicians on Facebook could be used to suppress voting, give wrong messaging, and even scare people from filling out the census,” Sharpton asserted in a statement after the meeting, citing that the social media giant made a commitment to review how such misinformation could lead to fear and undermine voting. He also stated that the group intends to meet with the leadership of Google and Twitter, which announced last week that the platform would no longer accept political ads.
Black Participation at the Ballot Box
The off-year election cycle revealed the ongoing grassroots efforts that will be employed to boost voter participation. For example, the Louisville, Kentucky NAACP chapter joined a national campaign aimed at bringing more African Americans to the polls. It sent more than 10,000 letters throughout the commonwealth to encourage frequent voters to encourage 10 voters who have grown complacent to engage in the electoral process.
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson recently appeared on the popular syndicated radio program, The Breakfast Club, to discuss issues ranging from its $1.5 million tech-driven voter identification and outreach program to its support of election security bills in the House and Senate tied to foreign interference of American elections. The bottom line, Johnson maintained, is that African Americans must demonstrate their influence at the ballot box. “We have to vote. The No. 1 method to overcome voter suppression is voter turnout,“ he told the program’s listeners. “You have to increase the numbers. This is a game of inches. People are not losing elections by tens of thousands of votes. People are losing elections by less than 1%.”