Dems: Black voters deserve more from party

Democrats say their party needs to “wake up” and stop ignoring major parts of their coalition, particularly black voters. 

The party, they say, must build off Doug Jones's win in the Alabama Senate race this week by working hard on issues of interest to minority voters — who have been the party’s most loyal backers.

“This has long been a sore spot,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in an interview.

He said black lawmakers and their constituents have long felt they’re taken for granted.

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“We've had meetings, countless meetings, with the political arms of our party and we would go away wondering if we were heard. And not only were we not heard, we were ignored,” he said.

Shortly after the Jones win, former NBA star and Alabama native Charles Barkley captured those frustrations in remarks on CNN — though he did so in a way that sought to draw an alliance between black voters and poor white voters who have often been pitted against one another.

Democrats, he said, “have taken the black vote and the poor vote for granted for a long time. They’ve always had our votes and they've abused our votes."

“It’s time for them to get off their ass,” Barkley added. “This is a wake up call for Democrats to do better for black people and poor white people.” 

Barkley’s comments got a lot of attention and not just because of his celebrity status.

Cleaver called Barkley “a truth teller.”

“What he said is true, and I challenge any African-American in the country to prove his words untrue,” the congressman said. “He said what many Democrats, particularly those of us in public office, have been saying for decades.”

There is no doubt that black voters — and particularly black woman — helped catapult Jones to victory on Tuesday. 

A CNN exit poll showed that black voters made up 29 percent of the electorate in the state and 96 percent of those voters supported Jones. The exit poll also showed that a higher number of black voters turned out to the polls than in the 2008 and 2012 elections when Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFord taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination Presidential approval: It's the economy; except when it's not MORE was running for president. 

The exit poll also showed that about 98 percent of black women voted for Jones, leading Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE to declare that the party’s wins in Alabama and Virginia’s governor contest in November were because of them.

“Let me be clear: We won in Alabama and Virginia because #BlackWomen led us to victory,” he said on Twitter. “Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and we can’t take that for granted. Period.”

“It raises the question, if blacks can turn out like this, why don’t they do this all the time?” said Clemmie Harris, a visiting assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University who specializes in African-American studies. “But it’s not a problem with the black vote. It’s a problem with the Democratic Party.” 

Harris added that traditionally, “the only time that their value emerges is when blacks send a signal that they are willing to stay home and not vote. And at that particular time, the party says, ‘Well, what can we do?' ” 

But some maintain the Jones race was different and can serve as a model going forward. 

During the race, the party made their presence known in the state and they upped their grass-roots game — spending time in African-American churches and barber shops and dotting the streets from the backroads to the suburbs to Birmingham. 

In the campaign’s final days, Jones brought in surrogates such as Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerPoll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle Booker: It would be ‘irresponsible’ not to consider running for president MORE (D-N.J.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, as well as Barkley and “Orange is the New Black” star Uzo Aduba to raise awareness and attention for his campaign.

Obama also made robocalls. “This one’s serious,” the former president said on the call. “You can’t sit it out.” 

“It's called the political frenzy,” Cleaver said, summing up the Democratic strategy in Alabama. “It’s where you can't stay home or go to the supermarket, without seeing evidence of the election. That means standing on street corners, that means black radio, church. You can't go anyplace in your world where you are not touched by the evidence that an election is forthcoming.”

African-American lawmakers, strategists and political observers said the black community connected with Jones at the end of the day. They pointed to his time as a lawyer when he helped secure a conviction for two Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a Baptist church in Birmingham in 1963. The bombing killed four girls. 

“The African-American community didn’t have to learn whether he would fight for the community. He already had,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, adding that “candidates matter.”

“Doug Jones stepped up and fought for African-Americans in a very visible way before he became a candidate and people remembered that,” Simmons continued. “The best lesson from Alabama is that candidates that have a historic connection to the African-American community help inspire turnout. If you can talk about that connection in an authentic way, provide a message for where you want to take the community and spin the resources to help, that leads to a winning campaign."

“It's not really that hard,” he said. “It’s a psychological change. What’s probably not very helpful is to try and create a bond in the last six weeks of an election."

To build on the Jones win, the party needs to enhance its message to black communities, Cleaver said. 

“We’ve got to become better people with a message,” Cleaver said. “The problem has been that the party has failed miserably at getting its message out to the people it helps the most. They have got to come up with a much better system of communicating what it stands for.”

The congressman said he remains “guardedly optimistic” about whether the party will continue to appeal to black voters. 

“We’ll see. We’ll see in a few months,” he said.