This fear is playing itself out in the elections for governor and state legislative seats in Virginia and New Jersey which are about three weeks away. I previously illustrated evidence of this concern among Democrats, more specifically the concerns on the issue that New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has.
I pointed to a slew of billboards the Governor has purchased in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. The billboards display an image of President Obama at a podium and off to the right, in the background, is the image of Jon Corzine. The bold tag line that goes along with the imagery reads “Keep it Going”.
What we are suppose to “keep going” is left to your own imagination but it is more than likely intended to mean that we should keep the work of President Obama going and that, by electing Jon Corzine, we will continue to do just that under Jon Corzine. Being strategically placed only in predominantly black communities, these billboards are obviously meant to inspire African-Americans and convince them that a vote for Governor Corzine is a vote for Barack Obama, even if the president isn’t on the ballot.
The intended message behind the ad is, to say the least, shallow but that is the essence of the entire race for governor in New Jersey. There are no clear, concrete plans being offered by any of the candidates for governor that offer a hint of how they will improve the quality of life in New Jersey. In Governor Corzine’s case that is particularly true.
For Corzine’s main opponent, Republican Chris Christie, his campaign is banking on that being anyone other than Corzine is enough to pull him through to victory. Independent candidate Chris Daggett is hoping that not being either Corzine or Christie will make him the next Governor. But Jon Corzine, with no record of accomplishment to point to, is counting on strong voter turnout among traditionally Democrat sectors. The focus of that strategy is centered on African-American and Jewish voters. Such is why the Governor has focused on bringing people like Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to campaign for him among select New Jersey communities. It is one reason why he picked an obscure state legislator to be his running mate for Lieutenant Governor. When receiving the nomination from Corzine, State Senator Loretta Weinberg defined herself a “fiesty Jewish Grandmother“ and had been running on that ever since.
But it is the African-American vote he mainly focuses on.
Since being re-nominated by Democrats, Governor Corzine has linked his name to President Barack Obama in every breath he takes. He has tried to morph Republican Chris Christie into George W. Bush and even tries to run against Christie, a former federal prosecutor, to Bush’s first Attorney General, John Ashcroft. In addition to that and evoking Obama’s name every chance he gets, Corzine has brought the President in for rallies and is desperately trying to get him back for more. Until then though, he is using images that cast him as the President’s shadow.
All of this, I repeat, all of this, is based on the need for the type of extraordinarily large African-American voter turnout that New Jersey and the nation saw in 2008 when President Obama was on the ballot.
He is not alone.
Democrats nationwide are begining to shake in their boots at the thought of not having the ballot draw of President Obama above their names come this and next November. A Washington Post survey estimates that the African-American voter turnout in this year’s race governor in Virginia to be around 12%, 40% lower than last year. According to The Hill, in New Jersey, the black population is “unmoved” in the race for Governor. Abnormally high black turnout seen in 2008 which offset Republican turnout in proportions too hard to overcome, will not occur in 2009 and the same seems to be true for next year’s nationwide, mid-term elections.
According to Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen, “If what looks like is going to happen in Virginia plays out on a national level, I do think Democrats will lose the House”. That comes from a partisan polling outfit, a leading partisan Democrat polling outfit.
Virginia’s African-American population is 20% while New Jersey’s stands at 14%. Both are substantial and while their unprecedented turnout in 2008 had a significant impact in the presidential race, it had an even stronger impact on local races. In many congressional districts, they provided the pivotal power that cost Republicans several seats in the House. However, in two special elections held in Louisiana after the race for President, Republicans won both seats away from Democrats, including one in a predominantly African-American, New Orleans district. This was in large part due to the fact that the President was not on the ballot and did not attract the larger than normal black voter turnout that helped Democrats win in ‘08.
In addition to a return to average black voter turnout in the coming elections, many expect fewer young voters to show up at the polls. President Obama captured the imaginations of many younger voters. His own youth and allure of change made many even register and vote for the first time. His not being on the ballot is more than likely to return the attendance numbers of young voters back to pre-Obama levels. Both will put democrats at a disadvantage come the next two Novembers.
All of this raises two questions and points.
First; Was President Obama simply elected because he was black? Many had wondered if it was impossible for him to get elected because they feared his color would prevent Caucasians to vote for him. As it turned it, considering the almost unanimous vote for Barack Obama from blacks because he is black, it would seem that the more pertinent question is not if being African-American would have prevented Barack Obama from getting “elected” but rather if his being African-American was the reason “why” he got elected.
It makes us have to wonder if in fact race is still not a problem but not the way we expected. Plenty of Caucasians voted for African-American Barack Obama, but few if any blacks voted for white John McCain. So is the real problem reverse racism?
The other question that must be tackled is, when will the Republican Party begin to appeal to black voters?
Republican Jack Kemp devoted much time and energy to delivering the Republican message of independence, self-reliance, prosperity and personal strength over government power. He tried to take this message to, as he put it, “the inner-cities”. He was right, but he was alone. Many
Republicans simply feel that it is impossible to receive support from African-Americans and the truth is that it is not impossible.
Until they deal with that truth, Republicans will have to consistently hope for “low voter turnout” to win elections and that is just not right. Our message is an inclusive one. Freedom, prosperity, education, personal empowerment are not terms limited to white people. They are terms that should inspire all Americans regardless of background or color. Until the G.O.P. realizes that, they will always be a marginal power in America.
As for Democrats, they too need stop relying on racial politics. They need to be able to campaign among all the population, not just use billboards in black communities designed to appeal strictly to African-American racial pride over their life conditions and the quality of life that their government limits them to.
Until Democrats accept that truth, they will have to count on the color of President Obama’s skin and his placement on the ballot as their sole opportunikty to stay in power. That is not an enduring strategy. President Obama is likely to be on the ballot only one more time and at this point in time, that isn’t even a sure thing yet.