Issue Number 18 - November 28, 2002




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"Very 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 Black Caucus.

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."

Republicans lavished 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:

Sixty-three (63) 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" voters.

Well, it don't mean a thing even if you've got that swing, - if the core of the party melts away.

Demography is destiny

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.

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