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Est. April 5, 2002
Apr 02, 2020 - Issue 812
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COVID-19, Race, 2020 Elections

"COVID-19 is set to be one of the deciding factors
in 2020 elections and could determine who controls
the U.S. House, Senate, and several state legislatures. 
Unfortunately, few Democrats are taking this into
account in a significant way as they run their races. 
They continue to misjudge the depths to which Trump
will go to win.  And the general public accepts it."

Per our note in last week’s column, COVID-19 is becoming a major issue in the 2020 local, state, and national elections. And Donald Trump’s campaign is beginning to use it as a central weapon in its reelection arsenal. But even more disturbing is that race is being deployed as a largely silent strategy. Few print and broadcast media outlets have acknowledged this fact.

Politics is a blood sport, and the 2020 elections may prove to be a draconian example of this oft-repeated maxim. Along with Voter ID, poll closures, poll relocations, and other devious schemes, the coronavirus may emerge as a major determinant in the final electoral outcomes as the escalating death rates in minority communities may serve to significantly depress voter turnout.

In the states and cities designated as hot spots, the majority of those found to be positive for COVID-19—and who are dying from it--are African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American even when they do not constitute a majority of the respective populations. Most of them are middle-aged black men. Those who died suffered from underlying health conditions resulting from of their economic status and lack of access to health care.

This situation is particularly acute in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where all the earliest reported deaths were of African American males. These findings have been repeated in Racine and Madison, Wisconsin, two other centers of the state’s minority populations. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (the state’s largest newspaper) did not report these statistics by race. The community became aware of this racial reality when the local TV outlet showed pictures of the dead.

A current example of the coronavirus political strategy in Wisconsin is the Republican-controlled legislature’s refusal to heed the request of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s (D) and Gov. Tony Evers’s (D) to delay the April 7th primary due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Republican Party recognized that Evers 2018 upset victory over incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) by 33,00 votes was fueled by minority voters from Milwaukee, Racine, and Dane (city of Madison) counties.

Since there is a hotly contested Wisconsin State Supreme Court race on the April 7th primary ballot, where the Republicans hold a slim majority, Republicans feel holding the primary as scheduled offers them their best chance to retain their voting margin on the Court. They expect a lower minority voter turnout due to the COVID-19 crisis which will aid their judicial candidate.

This race will serve as a trial run for November 3, 2020. Based on the current predictions, deaths from the coronavirus will likely be at their apex at that time—disproportionately killing Wisconsin’s minorities--and will have stoked even greater fear among minority voters who will be more concerned about living than going to the polls. Thus, Trump would carry Wisconsin again.

This experience will be apt to be repeated in other COVID-19 hot spots in 2020 battleground states with significant minority and/or progressive populations: Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, and North Carolina.

Among the metropolitan areas targeted are Detroit, Inkster, Pontiac, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Pontiac, and Highland Park, Michigan; Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chester, Harrisburg, and Erie, Pennsylvania; North Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City, and Henderson, Nevada; Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk, Newport News, and Portsmouth, Virginia; and Miami-Dade, Osceola, Palm Beach, Collier, Orange, and Hillsborough Counties in Florida.

There are similarly situated cities and counties in Colorado, Georgia, Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. Employing these voter suppression tactics and assisted by the Russian campaign of disinformation, the Trump campaign is poised to repeat and expand its 2016 advantages for victory. This could be especially helpful for down ballot Republican state-level candidates and those for the U.S. House and Senate.

COVID-19 is set to be one of the deciding factors in 2020 elections and could determine who controls the U.S. House, Senate, and several state legislatures. Unfortunately, few Democrats are taking this into account in a significant way as they run their races. They continue to misjudge the depths to which Trump will go to win. And the general public accepts it.

Coronavirus press briefings have enabled him to replace his bi-weekly or monthly campaign rallies with daily reports which essentially serve the same purpose. He continues to lie about the state of the disaster, insults reporters who attempt to hold him accountable, and is able to politically feed the rabid members of his base of support who have rewarded him with his highest job approval rating and a high level of approval for his handling of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders’s promotion of universal health care, student debt cancellation, free public college, a universal basic income, reversal of food stamp cuts, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, and his other progressive policies for working families are receiving a second look. Democrats and some Republicans are giving them more serious consideration as they shelter in place at home, many without employment and a loss of health care.

As the coronavirus calamity persists and intensifies, Bernie’s message is resonating with the masses of Americans who are increasingly anxious about their present and future. With 27 Democratic primary contests remaining, and the rapidly changing political landscape, Biden should not take Bernie for granted.

Bernie is reinforcing his messages on his digital platform, while Joe Biden (as did Hillary during a similar period in 2016) is preparing to assume the office of president. He and his campaign staff are comfortably riding the wave of his high poll numbers and have not reflected on the COVID-19 impact on his primary and his possible presidential race. They have basically dismissed Bernie as a challenge and are underrating Trump and his use of the coronavirus.

When the electoral dust settles on November 3rd, there is a distinct likelihood that Donald John Trump will be reelected to a second term as a result of his exploitation of the coronavirus catastrophe.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell and BC.

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