Democrats say their efforts to bring black voters to the polls are succeeding and could save their Senate majority on Election Day.
Early voting by African-Americans is outpacing the 2010 midterms in many of the key races the party must win to hold the Senate, Democratic operatives say, with new registrations up among that segment of the electorate.
Turnout typically falls in midterm years, particularly among black voters. While blacks represented 13 percent of the electorate in the presidential years of 2008 and 2012, their vote share was 11 percent in 2010 and 10 percent in 2006.
In Arkansas, black voters increased as a proportion of the electorate by 1.9 points between 2010 and 2012, according to a study released last week by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. In Louisiana, their share rose by 2.5 points. And in North Carolina, the swing between 2010 and 2012 was 6.7 points.
Those numbers could help explain why President Obama — whose approval rating among African-Americans is 85 percent — has devoted much of his campaign efforts to bringing out the black vote.
In recent weeks, Obama has sat for radio interviews with black hosts Al Sharpton, Steve Harvey, Rickey Smiley, Russ Parr and Yolanda Adams and taped at least a dozen robocalls and radio ads for Democratic candidates on urban stations.
The Democratic National Committee is advertising in black newspapers with a “Get His Back” ad campaign featuring Obama. And on Tuesday, the president kicked off the final week of campaigning with a rally in an overwhelmingly black Milwaukee ward where he won 99 percent of the vote in 2012.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) says it has made an “unprecedented investment” in its turnout operation.
“We’re already seeing very encouraging signs in early vote numbers among African-Americans and across the spectrum of the electorate,” DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky said.
DSCC executive director Guy Cecil pointed to a series of encouraging signs in a recent interview with Bloomberg’s “With All Due Respect.”
Cecil said in Arkansas, where Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE (D) is locked in a tough reelection battle, Democrats had registered 95,000 new African-American voters.
“We think we’re going to be successful increasing their turnout,” Cecil said, predicting an overall increase in voting of 5 percent.
In Louisiana, where Sen. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuLouisiana needs Caroline Fayard as its new senator La. Senate contender books seven-figure ad buy Crowded field muddies polling in Louisiana Senate race MORE (D-La.) is fighting for her political life, Cecil said that the African-American early vote was the “highest that it’s ever been.” According to the Louisiana secretary of State’s office, African-American voters made up 47.5 percent of voters added to the rolls in October.
“Unlike what most people think, we have the largest number of African-Americans registered, over 900,000, more than pre-Katrina,” Cecil said.
Still, it appears unlikely that any candidate in the Louisiana race will earn more than the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff.
“The runoff is going to be on a Saturday instead of a Tuesday, and Democrats are hopeful that a Saturday vote will be more amenable” to turning out black voters, said University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Kyle Kondik.
Democrats also see promising signs as they seek an upset in the traditionally red state of Georgia, with The Atlanta Journal Constitution finding that the number of black voters on the rolls has increased nearly 67,000 from 2010.
The president has paid particular attention to the Georgia Senate race. During a recent interview with Atlanta’s V-103, Obama told black voters to get out to the polls for Democrat Michelle Nunn while invoking the civil rights records of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
“You think about what the civil rights movement meant in Georgia, the notion that less than half of your people vote doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” Obama said.
Kondik said, “there are some good anecdotal signs” across the country for Democrats. But ultimately, he said, it’s “hard to quantify” whether black voters will do enough to propel Democratic upsets.
Part of the reason is that Democratic turnout would truly need to defy historical trends.
In pivotal states like Arkansas, Kansas and Kentucky, black turnout was below 40 percent in 2010, according to the Joint Center study. That suggests Democrats might not have the necessary campaign structure in place.
In other Senate battlegrounds, such as Colorado and Kansas, the study found, targeting black voters alone won’t be enough to help Democrats win. They’ll need to mobilize high proportions of white voters and non-black minority voters as well.
“Assuming black turnout is consistent with recent midterm elections and current polling data, Democrats will find it hard to put together winning coalitions, even with overwhelming African-American support,” the authors wrote.
Moreover, Republicans have worked hard to court black voters themselves.
Louisiana state Sen. Elbert Guillory (R) said his goal is to convince at least 20 percent of black voters in Louisiana to go for the GOP.
“We want to show African-American voters that they don’t have to be bound by their history, that there are other options,” he said of his efforts.
Guillory cut a video telling African-Americans in Louisiana that, to Landrieu, they’re just “a means to an end,” and accusing her of failing the black community.
Conservatives hailed the video as a “game-changer” in their efforts to reach out to African-Americans, and on Monday, Guillory released another video in conjunction with a North Carolina super-PAC hammering Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganPhoto finish predicted for Trump, Clinton in North Carolina Are Senate Republicans facing an election wipeout? Clinton's lead in NC elevates Senate race MORE (D-N.C.) with the same message.
Orlando Watson, the RNC communications director for black media, said Republicans have presented an agenda “suited to close economic and educational disparities.”
Democrats, Watson said, are scrambling “to make last-minute appeals to black voters by relying on divisive radicalized rhetoric and ignoring their record of policies that limit the avenues to upward mobility.”