Locking Up The Black Vote

Donna Brazile is looking to show the world the power of the black vote. Brazile, best known as campaign manager for former Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, is urging African American leaders to run as favorite sons and daughters in various states’ presidential primaries to lock up as many delegate votes as possible before the Democratic Party convention assembles in Boston to pick nominees. Since proportional representation replaced “winner take all” primaries several years ago, delegate votes have been divided at the congressional district level with a few statewide seats reserved for governors, party bosses, and leaders of labor or civil rights groups.

This could potentially lock up the African American vote, garnering as many as 1,500 convention votes, according to Brazile. These votes, controlled by Brazile and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), could sway the choice of a nominee and help decide who will face off against President George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. They would also send a message to any Democrat who takes for granted that he or she will gain the black vote simply because African Americans, as a whole, do not vote Republican. Though unconfirmed, some of the possible favorite sons could include ex-Denver mayor Wellington Webb, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, U.S. Reps. James E. Clyburn, (D-S.C.), Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), and former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial.

“The proposal that I will put forward at the Democratic National Committee meeting in February will help revive and rebuild the party at the grassroots level to energize the base of the party and to [involve] people who would not normally be selected to work as delegates,” explains Brazile.

It’s a lofty goal, but will it work? According to David Bositis, senior research associate and political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., for the first time since 1972 there is some real competition among Democrats for the party nomination. If he were to conduct a survey today, however, Bositis predicts that 80% of African Americans would not be familiar with potential candidates such as Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry or North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman has the advantage of his association with Gore (Gore’s vice presidential running mate during the 2000 election), but is by no means guaranteed the nomination.

Bositis likes the plan, saying it will democratize the election process. “Right now a lot of it is about money, getting enough money and press so [a candidate] can do well in the New Hampshire and Iowa primaries.” He sees two possible problems, though: First, many CBC members may already have made commitments or plan to do so in the future; second, a clear front-runner in the two early primary states could derail the plan. “If the outcome of the primaries is a tie, though, one person could make a difference if he or she has enough delegates,” says Bositis, thereby elevating one of the favorite sons or daughters to king-maker status. “That could be