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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Huge Black Turnout May Spark Broad Dem Gains

Adam Nossiter and Janny Scott have an important New York Times article “In the South, a Force to Challenge the G.O.P.” The authors are primarily interested in the how the historically high turnout of African American voters in the south will help Obama’s chances, and they have this to say about his influence in the primaries thus far:

…turnout in Democratic primaries this year has substantially exceeded Republican turnout in states like Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia…Some analysts suggest that North Carolina and Virginia may even be within reach for the Democratic nominee, and they point to the surprising result in a Congressional special election in Mississippi this week as an indicator of things to come.

Scott and Nossiter note that Black primary turnout in SC more than doubled over ’04 and nearly doubled in GA. MD, VA and LA also had large gains in Black turnout. The Black turnout was pivotal in Mississippi this week in electing
Democrat Travis Childers, after Republicans tried to drum up racial animosity over Obama’s campaign. The authors acknowledge that the deep south, especially Mississippi, is still forbidding territory for Dems, but they believe the Childers victory provides “a case study in the effects and consequences of focusing on Mr. Obama.”
And Georgia, tied at 10th rank among the states in electoral votes with NJ and NC, could be added to the list of states in play if Bob Barr gets any traction as a siphon of GOP votes from McCain and/or Obama picks Sam Nunn as his running mate. In the February 5th primary in GA, Dems cast nearly 53 percent of the votes, and Black voters cast 55 percent of the Democratic ballots — an all-time high.
Whether Dems win or lose the presidency in November, it’s a safe bet that there will be an unprecedented turnout of African American voters nationwide, if Obama is nominated. Although most Black voters reside in the south, they can be a decisive margin of victory in Senate, House and state legislative races in many other states. As Josh Goodman notes at Governing.com:

It seems unlikely that solid red states will suddenly become swing states solely on the basis of more African-Americans showing up at the polls…But, even if Obama doesn’t win these states, the implications of increased black turnout for down-ballot races could still be significant. Plus, many swing states do have substantial African-American populations, including Virginia (19.6%), Florida (15.4%), Michigan (14.1%), Ohio (11.8%), Missouri (11.3%) and Pennsylvania (10.4%).

It’s never been more important for the DNC, DSCC, DCCC and national and community-based organizations to work together in getting Black citizens registered to vote. Writing at The Hill, David Hill explains:

…Even if non-voting blacks came out this election in numbers twice that of every other group of non-voters, it would not turn the election upside-down. There is a ceiling effect on how influential a surge in black turnout can be because of African-Americans’ comparatively small share of non-voters.
The development that would make black turnout more significant would be a surge in registration of African-Americans. This is a realm where the black population still lags in a meaningful way. According to the Census survey, only 69 percent of African-Americans are registered. While this compares very favorably to registration rates of other ethnic and racial minorities (52 percent of Asians and 58 percent of Hispanics are registered, according to the Census Bureau), it significantly trails the 75 percent rate of registration among non-Hispanic whites.
Because of non-registration, the electoral participation of all black adults is 60 percent, trailing whites by seven percentage points. If blacks closed that gap completely, it would bring 1.7 million additional African-American voters to the polls this fall. Scattered out across 50 states and 435 congressional elections…

Hill and Goodman are more skeptical about the effects of Black turout in November. But it’s hard to argue with the numbers cited by Nossiter and Scott and the implications of Childers’ victory, driven as it was, by Black voter turnout. In any event, another safe bet is that the GOP’s Black voter suppression machine will soon go into maximum overdrive.

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