Political Miscellany @ 11/4/2009: Is the Obama Coalition “Portable” to Other Democratic Races?

Right after Obama’s presidential election win last November, I made this comment:

Here are my own election winners and losers, plus some “too early to tell” entries…

Too Early to Tell:

Black Voters: They were huge this election. Blacks were 13% of the total vote, up from 10% in 2000 and 11% in 2004. That helped make the difference in close elections for several states.

The question is, can they be depended on in future elections? Or will their turnout drop without Obama at the top of election ballots?

I think a lot more work needs to be done to make black voters a dependable election force, in close elections or elections in the South. Because if they’re not a dependable political force, that lessens their power and influence in the long run.

It will be interesting to see how much of the black vote turns out for the Georgia Senate runoff election between Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and his opponent, Democrat Jim Martin. Martin has no hope of winning if black voters stay home; we’ll see if they sit this one out.

In the aforementioned Georgia Senate race, Jim Martin did wind up losing, and low black turnout was a factor.

Yesterday, Republicans won the governor’s election in New Jersey and Virginia. In both cases, the young and black voters who were key to Obama’s election success were not decisive in their support for the Democratic candidate.

Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press made these comments:

In another troubling omen for Democrats, the surveys also showed that more of the Virginians who turned out on Tuesday said they supported Republican John McCain in 2008 than said they backed Obama. That suggests the Democrats had difficulty turning out their base, including the swarms of first-time minority and youth voters whom Obama attracted as part of his diverse coalition.

A loss in Virginia could suggest that the diverse coalition that Obama cobbled together last year in Virginia and elsewhere — blacks, Hispanics, young people, independents and Republican crossovers — was a one-election phenomenon that didn’t transfer to the Democratic Party when Obama wasn’t on the ballot.

I share Sidoti’s concern, although I disagree with her comment that the Obama election win was a one hit wonder in terms of pulling together what I call the “Obama coalition” of young, black, Hispanic and independent voters.

Witness, for example, 38-year old Democrat Anthony Foxx in the Charlotte, North Carolina mayoral election. Voters in the city ended more than two decades of Republican leadership in Charlotte Tuesday by electing Foxx, who is the city’s second African-American mayor and the youngest in memory. Foxx won a close race, getting roughly 51 percent of the vote over Republican John Lassiter in unofficial tallies.

Foxx benefitted from a strong black turnout. African Americans are 35% of Charlotte’s population. The Democrats need to find and promote more candidates like him, who appeal to diverse constituents.

The bottom line is, if the Democrats are going to win “the Obama way,” they need to embrace the kinds of voters that put Obama into office. Failure to do so is perilous. Consider these comments from the Washington Post, concerning the election campaign in Virginia governor’s race:

Senior (Obama) administration officials have expressed frustration with how Democrat R. Creigh Deeds has handled his campaign for governor, refusing early offers of strategic advice and failing to reach out to several key constituencies that helped Obama win Virginia in 2008, they say.

A senior administration official said (Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh) Deeds badly erred on several fronts, including not doing a better job of coordinating with the White House. “I understood in the beginning why there was some reluctance to run all around the state with Barack Obama,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about the race. “You don’t do that in Virginia. But when you consider the African American turnout that they need, and then when you consider as well they’ve got a huge problem with surge voters, younger voters, we were just a natural for them.”

A second administration official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Obama, (outgoing Democratic governor Tim) Kaine and others had drawn a road map to victory in Virginia. Deeds chose another path.”

And it goes without saying that black voters can’t afford to be apathetic or unengaged simply because certain kinds of candidates aren’t running. Not everyone who runs for political office is exciting or charismatic. And sometimes it is about voting for the lesser of two evils. Black folks need to be willing to come out to the polls even in those kinds of situations.

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