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Black Voters Could Make the Difference during Midterm Elections

James Wright | 10/19/2010, 11:52 a.m.
David Bositis, a senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Northwest said that despite media reports, Democrats have a chance to retain power with the help of African-American voters. In 2008, Blacks voted in unsurpassed numbers to ensure the presidency of Barack Obama. Photo by Lafayette Barnes.

One of America's leading think-tanks recently released a report that shows that African-American voters are located in key states and congressional districts which could decide the balance of power in Washington and statehouses across the country.

The report, "In Anticipation of November 2: Black Voters and Candidates and the 2010 Midterm Elections", was made public by the Washington, D.C.-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies on Thu., Oct. 14. David Bositis, a senior political analyst for the Joint Center and the author of the report, said that contrary to what has been reported in the media, the Democrats have a chance to keep some power with the help of African-American voters.

"There is widespread agreement that the Democrats -- after major gains in 2006 and 2008 -- are poised to lose a significant number of U.S. House and Senate seats in the 2010 elections largely because of high unemployment and a generally poor economy," Bositis wrote in the report's "Executive Summary." "It also widely felt that the extent of those losses will have a major impact on the Obama administration's ability to pursue its goals through 2012."

However, Bositis points out that the "outcome is not as certain as many believe it to be."

"The extent of the Democrats' losses will depend on their ability to turn out their most loyal voters, and no voting bloc will be more important to them than African Americans," he said.

"If they can mobilize a strong Black turnout, the Democrats can significantly reduce their potential losses."

The importance of the Black vote can be traced to the 1976 race for president, when African-Americans voted over 80 percent for the Democratic Party nominee Jimmy Carter. Carter won states such as Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, where the Black vote was considered the margin of victory by political experts.

Bositis said that in 1986, African Americans helped the Democrats increase their majority in the U.S. House and take control of the Senate, because of the Black turnout in key states. In 1998, the Black vote helped the Democrats pick up governorships in Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia as well as securing more U.S. House seats in the Congress.

Bositis said that this year's elections could echo 1986 and 1998.

"There are 20 House seats and 14 Senate seats in addition to 14 gubernatorial races where the Black vote has the potential to determine the outcome of this year's elections," he said.

One of the states where Black turnout is important is Maryland, where incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is fighting to keep his job from former Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R), whom he defeated in 2006 with a strong African-American vote in Prince George's County and Baltimore. Recent polls show that O'Malley has a 5-point lead, but that is among likely voters, a sample that does not traditionally include a large number of African Americans.

"Historically, Blacks have turned out to vote at lower rates than Whites -- and this was especially true for midterm elections -- but that doesn't mean that African Americans as a rule won't turnout for midterm elections," he said.

In addition to Maryland, the Black vote can make the difference in U.S. Senate races in states like Illinois, California, North Carolina, Florida and New York. Democrats can gain governorships in such states as Georgia, California and Florida and can keep the governor's mansion in Massachusetts, Illinois and Ohio.

The Senate seat in Illinois was once held by President Obama. Massachusetts has a Black governor, Deval Patrick, and should he win re-election on Nov 2, he will be the first Black to win a second term in a gubernatorial position.

Early voting for the Nov. 2 general election in the District started on Mon., Oct. 18 , at One Judiciary Square in Northwest. District residents can also cast their ballots at other early voting centers beginning Sat., Oct. 23. Photo by Victor Holt.
U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) is seeking to become the first Black elected as a senator from a Southern state. If O'Malley is successful in Maryland, his running mate, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown becomes the assumed front-runner for the state's top political spot in 2014.

Bositis noted that President Obama is extremely popular with African Americans and many feel an obligation to help him, particularly because he is under attack from Republicans. The president and his wife, Michelle, have made appearances in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Connecticut and New York.

The Democratic National Committee has spent money on African-American outreach efforts that feature slogans that say, in essence, that Obama needs the help of Blacks for the Democrats to stay in power.

Joint Center President and Chief Executive Officer Ralph Everett said the report is a signal to Blacks that they can still make a difference.

"It is clear from this analysis that we have not reached the final chapter of the election story in many key states and congressional districts, and that African-American voters could end up being the authors of events if they match their turnout rates from other recent midterm elections," Everett, 59, said.