David Tulis/AP/File
Democratic candidate for US Senate Michelle Nunn (r.) attends a rally before casting her own ballot in early voting at the Adamsville Recreation Center in Atlanta.

Even with 'mobilized' black voters, Democrats could struggle in South

A new report suggests that, to win, Democratic candidates might need to drive black voter turnout to 2008 and 2012 levels, when Barack Obama was on the ballot. But it will be hard.

Black voter participation will have to rise to the stratospheric levels of the 2008 election of Barack Obama in several Southern states if Democrats are to win key Senate races in Election 2014, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic studies.

Senate races in Southern states with significant black populations, such as North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Arkansas, will likely be decisive in determining which party controls the chamber during the last two years of the Obama presidency.

In all those races, black voters – who have regularly had lower-than-average participation in midterm elections – will be crucial for Democrats .

Black voters, the Center study found, are a major factor in 17 competitive races for governor and the US Senate. But to help Democrats offset a steady out-migration of white Southern voters away from the Democratic Party, African-Americans would have to be highly mobilized on Tuesday for Democrats to win those races. Instead, Democrats are likely to fare best in places like Kansas, Wisconsin, and Colorado, where the black voter pool is smaller and whites are more strongly engaged with the Democratic message, the report found.

Given those realities and “assuming a black vote share identical to 2010, the 2014 midterm election cycle will be a challenging year for Democrats, even with overwhelming African-American support,” write Andra Gillespie and Tyson King-Meadows in a report titled “Black Turnout & the 2014 Midterms.”

Indeed, getting out the black vote may be more difficult than just beating historical participation trends. There may be several reasons for black voters to stay away from the polls next week.

One is that Democratic candidates like Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Michelle Nunn in Georgia have largely shunned Mr. Obama – a political tactic they’re asking black voters, who are still largely fond of the president, to overlook.

And certainly, many black voters are also part of the large contingent of Americans who polls say are unhappy with the direction of the country, potentially pitting individual interest against party and racial solidarity.

Nevertheless, “given that many states with tough Senate races are in the South, where the majority of African Americans live, Democrats are very much banking on black voters to be their firewall,” writes Nia Malika Henderson, in The Washington Post.

North Carolina’s Senate contest between incumbent Senator Hagan and her Republican challenger, Thom Tillis, is a good example. According to the study, Hagan, to win, will have to have similar black support as she did when she won her seat in 2008, when Obama's name was on the top of the ballot. Problem is, as many as 1 million black North Carolina voters stayed away from the polls in 2010, the last election where Obama was not on the ballot.

“African-American surge voters came out in force in 2008 and 2012, but they are not well positioned to do so again in 2014,” pollster Cornell Belcher wrote in an Oct. 1 memo, according to The New York Times. “In fact, over half aren’t even sure when the midterm elections are taking place.”

That missive raised alarms among Democrats, who have since put on an offensive in the black community, including numerous appearances by President Clinton, long a favorite among African-Americans. Obama has also taped appearances for major black radio personalities.

In Georgia, Democrats have registered 120,000 new black voters in a heavy push to offset the fact that, in the last midterm, only 741,000 black Georgians voted, compared with 1.1 million in 2012.

“I bet a whole bunch of your listeners aren’t even thinking about this election coming up on Nov. 4,” Obama told Steve Harvey on Oct. 15. “But this is really the last election in which I have the opportunity to get a Congress that will work with me.”

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