What we do know is this year’s midterm Senate races will be tight—what we don’t know is just how tight. Despite constant spinning in the news cycle, most Americans either don’t know a big election is coming up or don’t care. In the last major midterm of 2010, only 41 percent of voters turned out or 91 million ballots counted—just 30 percent of the population. Are you OK with that?
That said: The African-American vote could play a decisive factor in congressional races in some key states, including places we keep hearing about, like Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana and Arkansas (and in places where you don’t think black folks live but do, like Colorado and Kentucky). Are we really all that into the election (and really into what President Barack Obama is saying about it)? How far could Republican voter-ID and voter-suppression strategies go in keeping polling places as brazenly Caucasian as the cast of Friends?
This week’s installment of The Take turned to Hampton University journalism professor Wayne Dawkins and former GOP congressional candidate Lenny McAllister for context. Dawkins is author of City Son: Andrew W. Cooper’s Impact on Modern-Day Brooklyn, and McAllister is a KDKA and Pittsburgh Cable News network host.
Wayne Dawkins (@waydaw): Based on the campaign messages, the six Senate battlegrounds are unpredictable. The Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina Senate races are lively.
Lenny McAllister (@lennymcallister): Republicans should take the Senate, but there is not the same wave of conservative passion hitting the airwaves and the campaign trail as there was in 2010. Because of that, there is a small, but distinct, opportunity for the Democrats to barely hold on to the U.S. Senate. The GOP has yet to cast aside the political-bogeyman mantra that the party has with non-Republican voters. Will independents break with the GOP in 2014 the same way they did in 2010? That is the question that will be answered in November. As of now, the answer appears to be no.
WD: Sure, black voter participation is normally down in off-cycles, but that could change this year. Look at what happened in Mississippi last spring. Republican Senate incumbent Thad Cochran was locked in a nasty primary fight with a Tea Party candidate. Cochran asked black voters for their votes, making the case that if he lost, Mississippi would lose experience, influence and bacon. The Tea Party candidate appeared too extreme compared to conservative Cochran.
African-American voters engaged and pulled Cochran over the top. Those voters should remind Cochran that they did him a huge solid. If voters of color care about reformed health care, student loans and consumer protection, they can’t afford to sit out this midterm. Otherwise they shouldn’t whine if they feel oppressed.
LM: The black vote plays a big role in this race, as it does in every race. The question is: Will the black electorate finally “get it”? Namely: 1) The black vote can swing every election; 2) The black vote should demand more from elected officials and candidates on a daily basis—not biannual basis; and 3) The black vote should be a “woo-able” electorate—not a voting bloc that remains in one camp without expectations of progress or results for our communities. With that in mind, I don’t know if the black electorate will come out en masse as it did in 2008 or 2012.
WD: If voters of color are a) not paying attention to the voter-ID stories and b) indifferent about those stories, shame on them. The Supreme Court has already rendered verdicts on three cases—restrictive voter-ID laws were upheld in two states but stricken in one—and the court was about to give its opinion regarding the Texas case. Voters of color came out strong in the 2012 presidential election when there was evidence of voter suppression and rich people trying to buy the election. It was a great moment when people fought the power at polls. That energy needs to return for this November’s midterm congressional elections.
LM: I do not call voter validation a “strategy” to “work for Republicans.” There is a reasonable expectation for voter-validation measures to be in place. The question with that issue is how they are implemented, from time frame to methodologies, to ensure that all eligible Americans have the right to vote.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.