With 249 days left until election day, Democratic party leaders emphasize they will not take African American voters for granted. Efforts against new voter ID laws and energizing the college community were two points of focus in the strategy.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and DNC Executive Director Patrick Gaspard briefed reporters on strategies targeted to African American voters.
“We are in the process of standing up the most dynamic grass roots campaigns in American history,” Wasserman Schultz said. “The number one rule in politics is ‘never forget your base,’ the DNC Chair said, adding: “We are making sure that when it comes to African American outreach — that it is a very high top priority in this campaign.”
Ninety six percent of African American voters supported President Obama in 2008. However, many Democrats worry that the economic climate of the last few years could cause a drop in enthusiasm. Though the numbers appear to be improving, Black unemployment hit a 27 year high in August of 2011. The highest percentage of Americans living in poverty rose to the highest level in 18 years last year and African Americans were disproportionately represented. Twenty seven percent of African Americans live in poverty in the U.S.
Wasserman Schultz and Gaspard acknowledged the challenges and focused mostly on voter suppression issues and efforts to energize the African American base. African Americans 18 to 29 voted at their highest percentage in history as did African American women as 68% of all eligible Black women eligible to vote participated. President Obama received 7.4 million more votes in 2008 than President Bush in 2004 in his victory over Sen. John Kerry.
In Florida on the Sunday before election day in 2008, 54% of African Americans voted on the Sunday before election day Wasserman Schultz, also a Florida Congresswoman, pointed out as she made a point on Florida’s new voter ID laws passed last year by the Republican controlled legislature.
“Included in the election law the [Florida] legislature passed is a prohibition on having early voting on the Sunday before election day,” the DNC Chair said. “It was a very big African American turnout. So they deliberately did that,” she added.
“We are… deploying precinct by precinct lawyers to assist voters who are having any kind of a problem at the polls. We’re also deploying lawyers now and over the next few weeks who will be working full time in the field to makes sure that we can address the problems that come up to address the problems of voter suppression,” Wasserman Schultz said.
No formal specific strategic role was mentioned for members of Congress or state legislators. However, when asked who the 2012 campaign’s African American surrogates would be, Gaspard did mention that CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver is one of 35 recently named as a campaign co-chair. Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus will be involved in a wide range of voter protection and voter education efforts. Included in that group are Cleaver, House Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn, John Lewis, Lacy Clay (along with Rev. Al Sharpton) and Marcia Fudge. Florida Reps. Frederica Wilson, Corinne Brown, Alcee Hastings are also focused on voter education efforts. Florida is one of the most important swing states in 2012 and has some of the most strict voting requirements. Rev. Al Sharpton will lead a march next week from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama focusing on the issue.
“We understand that in 2012 we have great potential but significant challenges,” Gaspard said. He also reminded reporters, “not only did we win… we saw unprecedented turnout in the African American community” in 2008. Gaspard also pointed out that African Americans turned out more in 2010 than in 2006 (off year elections) in California, New York and Florida. The DNC launched a HBCU initiative last week at 28 college campuses to get college students engaged. President Obama received 66% of voters aged 18-29 in 2008. John McCain received 29% of the 18-29 vote.
Gaspard also pointed out the potential of unregistered voters who could enter the equation. “In a state like Georgia where you have 420,000 eligible African Americans who are not yet registered to vote. Clearly one can see the real, raw potential of animating those young folks on those HBCU campuses,” he pointed out.
In North Carolina: “Right now today there are 300,832 African Americans in North Carolina who are not registered to vote. Getting out there and getting them involved will make all the difference in the world,” Gaspard said.