What’s at Stake for Obama in 2014

His legacy may rest on whether Democrats can run diverse candidates and increase voter turnout.

President Barack Obama shakes hands. (Jim Watson/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama shakes hands. (Jim Watson/Getty Images)

That drop among white voters may be a direct result of the Republican Party’s racially divisive and obstructionist tactics used against the Obama presidency. Its strategy of deliberately making government dysfunctional and then using it as a wedge issue invariably led voters to become disillusioned — thereby choosing to stay home.

And despite the upward tick in the African-American youth vote in 2010, the overall percentage of black voters declined. In fact, the percentages of young voters, African-American voters and Hispanic voters all decreased — down by 55 percent, 43 percent and 40 percent respectively.

So who showed up in 2010? A study by Project Vote, a nonpartisan nonprofit group, found that of all voters in the midterm elections, four out of five were white, and they tended to be older and wealthier. Seniors — inundated with GOP propaganda that Obamacare would destroy their Medicare benefits — delivered an increase of 16 percent over the 2006 contest. And 59 percent of those elderly voters cast a ballot in favor of Republicans, up 10 percentage points from the prior midterm. Voters making $200,000 a year or more came out significantly (an increase of 11 percent), and 41 percent of them said they supported the Tea Party movement.

So do Democrats have a strategy for the midterms? Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, responsible for vetting, supporting and helping to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives. His primary job is to deliver a Democratic majority. Israel told The Root: “The Democratic Caucus is now majority women and minorities — reflecting what our country looks like — while the Republican Caucus is 90 percent white men. Their top priority is to obstruct and block President Obama at every turn and put their special interests ahead of the common interest. We will run a door-to-door, house-to-house campaign to get the message out.”

But getting voters to the polls isn’t the only concern. Israel’s insights underpin a vital issue for Democrats: Key to victory will be running people of color with whom Obama can campaign to help boost minority and youth turnout. With the face of congressional leadership being Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and a possible 2016 primary featuring Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, Democrats have a diversity problem, too. Investment in young black and brown candidates for House, Senate and gubernatorial races is essential to ensure President Obama’s electoral legacy — not just his legislative one.

The good news? The DCCC appears to have learned lessons from the ground-game offensive perfected by the Obama for America team in both 2008 and 2012. In addition to underestimating the demographic shift that delivered the president a multiracial coalition, Republicans also lacked campaign resources, especially in battleground states like Florida and Ohio. These are places where Obama’s campaign offices never closed after 2008 — and the DCCC intends to keep that effort going.

Ryan Daniels, the deputy national press secretary for the DCCC, told The Root: “The DCCC is committed to having a pool of diverse candidates. Rep. Donna Edwards [D-Md.] heads our recruitment efforts, and she is focused on both ethnic and gender diversity. This focus, coupled with our organizational structure, gives Democrats the competitive advantage.”

It remains to be seen what comes of the Democrats’ good intentions, but President Obama is already thinking ahead. He has committed to eight fundraisers on behalf of the DCCC and two for the DSCC — its Senate equivalent — and he has already outpaced Republicans on donations. 

With a GOP hell-bent on turning hope into fear and change into indifference, President Obama’s ground game must become making the Republican majority obsolete.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington, Arise America and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.