To win Senate races in the South, Black Democrats need ‘value of life’ alliances

Greg Nash

Black Senate candidates stand poised to make historic breakthroughs in three southern states. And the unexpected intrusion of Supreme Court politics into the elections may provide an opportunity to seek out moderate and conservative support for their campaigns. To do so, however, the candidates should pursue a “value of life” platform that builds bridges to moderate and conservative white Christians.

There are three Black Democrats running for the U.S. Senate in the South: Mike Espy of Mississippi, Jamie Harrison of South Carolina, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia. What makes their campaigns intriguing is that Blacks constitute one-third of the state populations and are politically moderate. As candidates that espouse their Christian faith, the men are in a position to establish a new political alignment in their states.

The campaigns have an opportunity to succeed where many Black candidates have failed since Reconstruction. They can ignite a new style of center-right Democratic politics that solicits the support of disaffected white Christian moderates and conservatives. If successful, the campaigns could ignite a political realignment capable of representing the interests of ordinary folk.

As I have suggested, Georgia, in particular, may hold the key to the future of African American politics, and Warnock’s Senate campaign may hold the promise for a new alliance. As a minister, Warnock can credibly promote a “value of life” platform that explores the mutual interests of Black Georgians and white Christians in the state. It could be a Black-led version of the coalition developed by former President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s. 

The Warnock campaign should explore discussions with white moderate and conservative evangelicals over a portfolio of proposals that define the value of life. Among the issues could be federal initiatives to end the coronavirus pandemic, expand Medicaid, better train police officers and, yes, seek to reduce abortions to cases of rape and incest.

Warnock should not concede the moderate and conservative vote to Republican opponents Kelly Loeffler and Doug Collins. They lack any real basis to uphold the values of life that are central to his campaign. Recently, former President Barack Obama noted the promise when he endorsed the Warnock effort.

In Mississippi, Espy, an attorney and former Secretary of Agriculture, could explore alliances with white moderates and conservatives and with state agribusiness. A “value of life” issue of potential interest could be federal initiatives to enrich food programs for schools and alleviate the strain on food banks under the pandemic-related unemployment.

And in South Carolina, Harrison has a chance to solicit the support of moderates and conservatives who are put off by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. Certainly, a politician who grandstands on a promise and then fails to honor his word is unworthy of public trust.

Graham’s appalling hypocrisy on the Supreme Court nomination process is an argument for seeking moral integrity in South Carolina’s election. Harrison, a man of Christian faith, should appeal to disaffected moderates and conservatives to join him in a “value of life” agenda.   

For the candidates to explore such new alliances, however, they will need to show a streak of independence from the impractical ideas of the Democratic liberal wing. And they should feel no obligation of loyalty to them. In the case of Warnock, for example, the resistance of white liberal candidates to his stronger campaign is evidence of the imperfect coalition. It tends to be a one-way street that privileges white men.

Make no mistake, the formulation of a “value of life” realignment will not be easy. There are interests in both parties to keep people from seeking commonsense agreements in state politics. And some reactionary groups will stop at nothing to preserve entitlements and erect obstacles to voting.

Last February, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a memorandum on the use of voter suppression methods in the South, “Voter Suppression in Minority Communities: Learning from the Past to Protect Our Future.”

“Like their post-Civil War predecessors, modern-day barriers to voting often are race-neutral on their face, but place disproportionate burdens on Black and minority Americans seeking to exercise their right to vote,” the report asserted. It identified obstacles such as “moving or closing polling locations, restricting access to the polls, requiring additional proof of identity, and purging voter rolls.”

Since the memorandum, reactionary voices have added the false fear of mail-in voting fraud. Still, people of faith and goodwill may discover an inherent advantage in their numbers, desire for fellowship, appreciation of faith, and ability to use social media to mobilize supporters.

Moreover, moderate and conservative white Christians may have an inclination that the desperate antics of President Trump and the Republican senators are unsustainable. Certainly, the shameful hypocrisy of the senators regarding Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and the president’s disgraceful performance during Tuesday’s debate, are cause for concern?

To summarize, Black Senate candidates are on the verge of a potential breakthrough in three southern states. If successful, the campaigns could spark a new politics with implications for the states with sizable Black populations. It could encourage Black participation in the running of state offices critical to the needs of everyday people.

It should be noted that there are three other Black candidates running for the Senate, but with little chance of breaking down barriers of race: Democrats Adrian Perkins in Louisiana and Marquita Bradshaw in Tennessee, and Republican John James of Michigan.

The Congressional Black Caucus could lend a hand in this effort. It could demand that the white liberal contenders in Georgia unify behind the Warnock campaign. It could encourage young people eager for racial justice to serve as poll workers in Black voting districts; with the pandemic, there are concerns about finding sufficient workers to staff polling stations. Most of all, it could give cover to the Senate candidates to break ranks and explore value-of-life alliances with disaffected moderates and conservative white Christians.

Roger House, Ph.D., is an associate professor of American studies at Emerson College in Boston, and the author of “Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy.” Since 2014, he has published, a curated website on African American history and culture.

Editor’s note: This article was updated after publication.

Tags American South Black politicians Democratic Party Donald Trump Lindsey Graham Mike Espy Raphael Warnock US Senate

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