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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Maximizing Black Turnout

Peter Wallsten’s L.A. Times article “Obama campaign targets black voters — carefully” merits a thoughtful read from Obama’s state-level organizers. In the nut graphs, Wallsten writes:

Obama strategists believe they have identified a gold mine of new and potentially decisive Democratic voters in at least five battleground states — voters who failed to turn out in the past but can be mobilized this time because Obama’s candidacy is historic and his cash-rich campaign can afford the costly task of identifying and motivating such supporters…What makes the idea of bringing in so many new voters more than just political fantasy is the Obama campaign’s deep pockets and the sophisticated apparatus it has begun building to achieve its goals — using techniques to ferret out and mobilize potential supporters that only a few years ago were the secret weapons of Republican strategists and their ideological allies.

Black voter turnout lagged behind the overall voter turnout nationwide in ’04, 60 to 64 percent overall. But Wallsten reports that David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political Studies, which monitors Black voter participation, believes a 20 percent increase is feasible in November, given the excitement generated by Obama’s candidacy.
While it’s likely that Obama’s nomination will produce a record-level Black voter turnout in November, it could still fall short of full potential without a lot of work at the street level. Obama, a former community organizer knows this is critical. And judging by the outstanding job his campaign did in the primary caucuses, there is reason to hope they will deploy those same organizing skills in turning out the Black vote.
One challenge facing Dems in maximizing African American turnout is felon disenfranchisement. There were as many as 1.1 million disenfranchised Black felons in Florida alone in 2004. New reforms in Florida have reduced that number by about 10 percent, but getting newly eligible Black adults registered and to the polls, felon or not, will require a creative, determined effort from the Obama campaign. Bush won Florida in ’04 by 381,000 votes. In all it’s estimated that 500,000 registered Black voters didn’t vote in ’04, with hundreds of thousands more eligible Black citizens unregistered. Clearly, an energetic Black turnout mobilization in the Sunshine State could be decisive in November.
Meeting voter registration deadlines is another major obstacle in turning out new voters from all constituencies. Here, procrastination is the enemy. October 6th is the voter reglstration deadline for potential swing states like Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Most of the others have deadlines a week or two after that date. Only Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire and Wyoming have same day registration provisions. North Dakota has no registration requirement.
In other words, the Obama campaign has about 100 days to reach all of those unregistered Black voters and help to get them on the voter rolls. Otherwise, all such talk of turning out new voters is just wishful thinking. It’s a daunting challenge, but meeting it could make all the difference. Finding unregistered young people of all races is yet another challlenge, and being prepared for the GOP’s usual election day obstructions is critical, as well.
Wallsten cites the concern that Obama’s messaging to mobilize Black voters could turn off some white voters. But I don’t think that’s the main problem. Obama knows he must reach out more effectively to get a larger portion of the white working class, which has plenty of shared concerns with Black workers. The two are not mutually exclusive, and Obama will find the common ground.

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