Number 18 - November 28, 2002
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shortly, in order to win close races and advance a pro-working families
agenda, Democrats and progressives will be forced to spend time and
resources engaging the fastest growing segment of potential base voters
- African Americans under age 40."
- Cornell Belcher and Donna Brazile
No sooner had the
polls closed November 5 than Black operatives in the Democratic National
Committee began churning the data, searching for cracks in the African
American bloc vote upon which the party's survival depends. Three weeks
of numbers crunching turned up no evidence of Black defections to the
GOP; indeed, "the data indicates that Democrats didn't suffer a
drop off in support among African Americans, despite the unprecedented
Republican African American communications and field efforts and the
highly convoluted nature of the issue environment," according to
a memorandum circulating among the Black Caucus of the DNC and the Congressional
The danger lies,
not in mass Black defections from the Democrats, but in Republican efforts
to dissuade from voting "younger and weaker self identifying Democratic
African Americans... a cohort that is increasingly open to Republican
negative messaging about Democrats."
millions of dollars on Black media in the mid-term election campaign,
principally Black radio. DNC Voting Rights Institute director Donna
Brazile and political strategist and polling consultant Cornell Belcher,
authors of the report, warn that "Republicans are well-positioning
themselves to suppress the turnout of African American voters via their
specific negative attacks asserting that African Americans are taken
for granted and Democrats are out of touch with the values of the community."
The GOP is not just
whistling in the wind - negative ads challenging Blacks to stop loving
a party that does not love them back, resonate. "Unfortunately,
many of the post election headlines by 'Black leaders' criticizing the
Party's efforts will find their way into Republican Black communications
in the 2004 cycle, further helping Republicans dissuade African Americans
from voting," said the DNC memo.
estimates that various Republican and rightwing organizations spent
at least $7 million on Black media, including $1 million in Republican
National Committee spot buys centered on the American Urban Radio Networks.
Targeted ad campaigns were also launched in the key presidential election
states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky and Missouri, laying the
groundwork for 2004. A shadowy, Christian Right-associated outfit called
Council for a Better Government ordered Black radio ads worth $1.5 million
in 12 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas,
Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and North
Dakota, according to the Associated Press. Other operations outside
of the official GOP spent millions more on Black-oriented media. The
Democratic National Committee and its congressional campaigns spent
about $3 million on reaching Blacks through media.
In addition, Republicans
invested an unprecedented $5 million in polling, alone, this campaign
cycle - testing messages both to energize their own faithful and demoralize
potential Black voters.
The lopsided nature
of the contest becomes clear when it is considered that Democrats must
encourage all of their African American supporters to turn out
at the polls, while Republicans seek only to peel away a few additional
percentage points for their candidates, concentrating instead on discouraging
normally Democratic Black voters from participating in the process.
GOP ads focused
on two, main themes: vouchers for private schools and the claim that
Social Security shortchanges Blacks. In both cases, systemic ills are
blamed on Democrats, and Black voters are made to feel foolish for sticking
with the party. There is hardly even the pretense of a pitch to join
the Republican Party. The effective message: stay home.
Advise and agitate
Donna Brazile and
Cornell Belcher are far more than mere numbers crunchers. Brazile was
"Gore 2000" campaign manager, and Belcher advises the Democratic
Senatorial Campaign Committee. These veteran strategists understand
full well the policy implications of their data:
percent of African Americans under age 40, 62 percent of African Americans
who self ID as independents (34 percent of African Americans), 57
percent of those who categorized the importance of the election as
low, and 47 percent of those who tend to vote only in the Presidential
on-year were open to considering the Republican candidate after hearing
the argument that Democrats take African Americans for granted and
have a history of neglecting African Americans except right before
elections, when they make promises that go unfulfilled after the elections.
Democrats face more
than a challenge of resources if they are to "move younger and
weaker self identifying Democratic African Americans to vote" in
2004. Brazile, Belcher and the various Black caucuses within the party
must "move" the national leadership to take positions that
inspire younger Blacks. Democrats cannot expect people to identify with
a party that cannot identify and define itself.
Although the fatal
"centrists" of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) have
been purged from nominal leadership of House Democrats, their soul-sapping,
determined vagueness continues to strangle the party's every pronouncement.
The DLC is like political Alzheimer's, relentlessly deadening vital
areas of what was once an organic coalition.
Blacks are the very
heart of that coalition. Yet, in the same suicidal manner as DLCers,
Democrats shape their policies and positions to the ephemeral tastes
of an ever-shifting - but always white - slither of "swing"
Well, it don't mean
a thing even if you've got that swing, - if the core of
the party melts away.
The DNC Brazile-Belcher
memo points to the numerical writing on the wall. The day of reckoning
is nigh - possibly the first Tuesday in November, 2004. For decades
the Democrats have been consumed by anxiety at the erosion of white
voter support. Now the numbers make clear that the immediate threat
is implosion, through the withering away of the party's staunchest
supporters - a prospect that is demographically imminent.
In our analysis
of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies survey of Black
opinion, November 21,
described the data as showing "a deepening disappointment
with the Democratic Party among Blacks." The 2002 GOP media campaign
was based on the same conclusion. As we wrote, "Enthusiastic Democrats
are [Republicans'] worst nightmare. Apathetic, estranged Black youth
portend extended decades of Republican rule, not Black Republican voters."
The political terrain
will be even more treacherous for Democrats in 2004. George Bush is
throwing open the federal vaults to create a "faith-based"
political marketplace, a strategy designed specifically to buy off Black
preachers. Democrats could not out-bribe Republicans under the old
rules. With billions in federal monies now ready for dispersal among
the Black clergy, many of whom are ready to be politically born-again,
the party faces an entirely new electoral landscape. There is no force
on earth that will stop a certain element of Black ministerial Sauls
from morphing into Republican Pauls, once they see the light of a federal
subsidy. No force, that is, except the disgust of the Black public,
including the opprobrium of their church congregations.
The character and
effectiveness of the Democratic Party's message to Blacks in 2004 will
be critical in determining the fate of the party. Its future is in African
American hands - not the other way around. Black caucuses within the
party need to remind themselves of this fact, and act accordingly. They
must demand a loudly progressive agenda and program, and the resources
necessary to deliver a credible message to an indispensable people.
There is no other choice.