Labor Day starts the ‘real conversation’ about this presidential election

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Labor Day traditionally looms large in the modern American political calendar — the day when voters across the nation typically start truly paying attention to the coming election and making up their minds. Recognizing this, it’s when the campaigns start kicking it into high gear.

To borrow a sports metaphor, Labor Day is the playoffs, March Madness and a pennant race all rolled into one.

Now that we’re there, let’s have a real conversation.

I’ve been blessed to be around this business for a handsome amount of time now and I’ve noticed that if there is one thing you can count on in the pre- and post-election discussions, it’s the performance, enthusiasm, outreach and, usually, criticism of Black voters.

Now, what boils my water from the Beltway Bubble insiders is that they typically credit everything but the unwavering support of most Black voters for Democratic victories — yet we shoulder all the blame for defeat.

Let’s be clear: You won’t hear me soften my tone when it comes to the significance of voters of color showing up to vote in historic fashion. Surely, I will keep blowing the horn and pulling the fire alarm, as I have since 2016, on why Black men and young voters are a must-have for Democrats to be successful up and down the ballot. 

What’s more, I refuse to stop saying thank you — or as we say in South Carolina, “much obliged” — to Black women for carrying this party on their shoulders, election after election, candidate after candidate.

And if I appear to be unapologetic when I say that white voters must do their part in this and every election, and must stop voting against their own interests and depending on Black voters to save the country, it’s because I am not sorry.

Here are the relevant numbers:

  • Black voter participation surged in 2008 to 65.2 percent, a nearly 5-point bump from 2004, while white turnout dropped to 66.1 percent — and Barack Obama won.
  • In a repeat performance in 2012, Black voter turnout rose further, to well over 66 percent. White turnout continued to drop, to nearly 64 percent. Obama won again.
  • The roles were reversed in 2016, however, with white turnout rising to 65.3 percent and Black turnout dropping 7 percentage points to 59.6 percent, and Donald Trump won.
  • And if that’s not enough for you, Black turnout as a whole jumped by nearly 11 percent in 2018, largely thanks to Black women who took back the House and drove Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) to victory.

So, despite what they say when the TV cameras are rolling, the rule for Democrats is that Black voters are a “must” and white voters are a “maybe.”

But the hard truth is that Hillary Clinton fell 38 electoral votes short of victory in 2016, and could have made up that deficit in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. If she had won those three states, she’d be in the Oval Office. She lost those states by less than 1 percentage point each.

Now, let’s realize that Blacks comprise only about 14 percent of Michigan’s population, 12 percent of Pennsylvania’s and 7 percent of Wisconsin’s. When your victory potentially hinges on the whims of, say, 7 percent of a state’s population, you’re probably setting yourself up for failure.

But we can’t afford to do “business as usual” in 2020 because that’s what lost the Democratic Party the White House in 2016. So, let’s do some unusual business instead.

That means ignoring the deceit and clickbait and recognizing that major issues — the environment, affordable housing, education, infrastructure, health care and wages — affect white voters as much as they do voters of color.  

It means finally understanding that when working-class, white voters in battleground states ignore Election Day because they expect Black voters to carry the water, they’re jeopardizing the very programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security upon which many of them rely.

This year, it means recognizing that the 2020 presidential election is different because people are still getting sick, and some are dying, from the coronavirus pandemic.

Everything is on the line this year, from our livelihoods to America’s democracy. The stakes couldn’t be higher. So, I’ll be doing my part — I’ll be stepping up to vote Democratic on Election Day. I hope you’ll join me.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, and a CBS News political contributor. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.

Tags 2020 presidential election Barack Obama Black voters Democratic Party Donald Trump doug jones Hillary Clinton Voter turnout

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