Senate Democrats Can’t Win Without Black Votes

The turnout for African Americans will be the pivotal difference in keeping a Democratic majority in 2014’s midterm election.

Voters in the presidential election Nov. 4, 2008, in Birmingham, Ala.
Voters in the presidential election Nov. 4, 2008, in Birmingham, Ala. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The same goes for Georgia, with its 31 percent black population and 62 percent black-voter turnout rate. Credible contender and Democrat Michelle Nunn (daughter of former Senate heavyweight and brand name Sam Nunn) can actually pull this thing off against Republican incumbent Sen. Saxby Chambliss by simply going all in with a black-voter population that’s 13 percent of all registered voters in the state. Ditto for Louisiana, where endangered Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu will desperately need black voters to fight off a GOP assault spearheaded by the state’s Republican governor and potential 2016 entrant, Bobby Jindal.

The catch, however, is the ability of Democrats to harness black-voter energy during a usually flat congressional midterm cycle. What’s the message? Congressional Democrats and the Obama White House are working on that with a new and aggressive discussion about poverty (marked by the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty). Senate Democrats want to make greater use of Obama’s time, presumably in an effort to find untapped pockets of black-voter support in these states while the White House is making noise about everything from unemployment benefits to Promise Zone initiatives (which is strange, considering the president spent a whole term sort of avoiding the word “poor”).  

Not that Republicans haven’t noticed, as they attempt to shake things up with their own brand of stale and disingenuous talking points on poverty. Also, there’s no surprise when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) makes a sudden visit to Detroit or when a young upstart black Republican, Ashley Bell of Georgia, announces a statewide run for state superintendent—at a time when Nunn can use all the black votes she can get. It’s not like the GOP expects a surge of new black votes. But Republicans do hope they can block Democrats just enough to clear a path back to a Senate majority on Nov. 4.

Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and frequent contributor to The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine. You can reach him via Twitter.