Want to Turn Your State Blue? Don’t Ignore Black Voters

By Jeffrey L. Boney

This November, all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate will be up for grabs, making this one of the most crucial midterm elections in recent memory. Thirty-three of the 100 seats in the Senate will be regular elections, while the other two seats will be special elections, where the winner will serve a six-year term from January 3, 2019, to January 3, 2025.

If Democrats are able to successfully flip 23 Republican-held House seats, while holding on to all of their current seats, they will take back the House in 2018. Things are a lot closer in the U.S. Senate; Democrats only have to successfully flip two Senate seats to take the Senate back.

Every major election cycle there are always discussions about turning battleground states that have traditionally been “red states” into “blue states.”

Here in the U.S., a state is referred to as a “red state” or “blue state” depending on the party that those voters in that state traditionally choose during elections. If the majority of voters consistently choose the Republican Party, then that state is deemed a “red state,” whereas if the majority of voters consistently choose the Democratic Party, it is considered a “blue state.”

In order for Democrats to turn traditional “red states” into “blue states” in November, they will need increased voter registration and strong voter turnout in the Black community to make that happen. Focusing on these two important factors could effectively flip battleground states like Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, Utah, Arizona, Mississippi, and others from ‘red states’ to ‘blue states’. More importantly, there are 39 gubernatorial elections and many other local, county and statewide races that will also be impacted by this 2018 election.

While there are many U.S. House and Senate races that already have a clear cut favorite before the race even begins, there are many other races in battleground states that could significantly change the overall look of Congress.

Take the state of Texas for example.

U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) has become a formidable opponent in his extremely competitive race to unseat Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in November. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll that was conducted in mid-April, the Senate race shows O’Rourke trailing Cruz by only three percentage points, which is well within the margin of error. O’Rourke is also beating Cruz on the fundraising end, hauling in a reported $6.7 million in the first quarter of 2018 alone.

A win by O’Rourke would completely change the political dynamics in the state of Texas, and would energize the Democratic Party in other states across the nation.

Currently, Republicans have control of both the House and Senate in the Texas state legislature, as well as control of all the statewide offices, making Texas one of the most influential and consistently dominating ‘red states’ in the U.S.

The last time voters in the state of Texas got behind a Democratic candidate for president was back in 1976 when Jimmy Carter defeated Republican Gerald Ford. Since that time, Texas voters have overwhelmingly supported the Republican candidate for president.

The same thing has happened relative to the governorship in Texas and all other statewide races; Democratic Governor Ann Richards lost her bid for re-election against Republican George W. Bush in 1994. Prior to her loss, Democrats had controlled the governorship for all but eight out of 120 of the prior years. No Democrat has won the governorship since, and the other statewide races have experienced the same results.

The only way to change these outcomes in Texas and other battleground states is to properly engage and mobilize Black voters. The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), which is a trade group that represents over 200 Black-owned media companies across the U.S., recently launched an initiative to register 5 million new, Black voters before the midterm elections, with the hopes of turning many of these traditionally “red states” into “blue states” in November.

However, the Democratic Party has to engage and motivate this strong and loyal voting bloc of Black voters in order to make this a reality as well.

According to the Pew Research Center, 87 percent of Black voters identify with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic, with Black women being the driving force behind this high percentage of Black registered voters.

In Texas, many statewide Democratic candidates failed to invest significant financial resources during the March Democratic Primary or the May run-off election with Black media outlets, such as newspapers, radio or cable stations such as BET, OWN or TV ONE, in order to introduce themselves to these committed Black voters and share their policy positions and commitments. Failing to invest in Black voter outreach could end up costing some Democratic candidates the election.

The Beto O’Rourke campaign did, however, just make a major commitment to Black media outlets in Harris County to do Black voter outreach across Harris County starting in mid-May and continuing through November. The campaign stated that they plan to invest more in Black media and expressly stated that they know they cannot win in Texas without the Black vote.

According to Carroll G. Robinson, an associate professor at Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and the former General Counsel of the Texas Democratic Party, in order to generate strong Black voter turnout and to increase awareness about the midterm elections in November, the Democratic Party and candidates like Beto O’Rourke are going to have to make a significant investment with Black media outlets to get their message out.

“Black voters, like many other voters, are going to need more than just being against Trump to turnout in record numbers in November,” Robinson said. “Black voters must know that their issues and concerns are being addressed and that they, their communities and the candidates of their choice are being respected, included and invested in.”

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