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Black Vote is Critical to Retaining Democratic Majority in Congress

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(NNPA) With less than two weeks remaining before the Nov. 2 mid-term elections, President Barack Obama and his wife, Michele, are frantically reaching out to African-Americans, their most loyal supporters who continue to give the president a 91 percent approval rating.

The president and the first lady have phoned in to Black radio shows, met privately with African-American newspaper columnists and bloggers as well as appeared before Black audiences in an effort to drive home the president’s key message: “…Voter turnout is going to be critical. Our numbers and our ability to organize grassroots has to counteract those millions of dollars that are coming in trying to take this election.”

A report by David A. Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, underscores the importance of the Black vote: “There are 20 competitive U.S. House elections where Black voters could potentially decide the outcome. Most of these districts are in southern states [15] and only three are held by Republicans. If the Democrats retain half of these seats, it would be difficult for the GOP to gain the 40 seats necessary to regain the majority of the U.S. House. Further, there are two GOP held seats in districts where Black voters are a substantial bloc [DE and LA] and every Democratic pickup will make the GOP’s goal of 40 more difficult to attain.”

A similar picture emerges in Senate races, according to the report titled, “In Anticipation of November 2: Black Voters and Candidates and the 2010 Midterm Elections”.

“There are 14 competitive U.S. Senate races in 2010 where the Black vote could have a major impact. Only four of these contests are in southern states, and eight of the [seats] are currently held by Democrats, while four Republican seats are open seat contests,” the report stated. “…If the Democrats win half of these seats, they most assuredly will maintain majority control in the U.S. Senate.”

Political commentators cite an anti-incumbents mood, the so-called enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters as well as the large amount of cash being given by anonymous donors to Republican candidates as factors that could lead to the GOP recapturing both the Senate and the House. However, they are underestimating the likelihood of the Black electorate turning out in large numbers because they perceive “their” president being attacked by the Tea Party and right-wing zealots such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

“This is a president who is very popular with African Americans and who is under attack from congressional Republicans,” Bositis said in the Joint Center report. “If anything, President Obama in 2010 is more popular with African Americans than President Clinton in 1998.” In that off-year election, Democrats won five additional House seats, something the party of a sitting president had not done in 50 years.

Another little-discussed factor that may improve Black voter turnout is the number of African-Americans seeking elective office.

Overall, 61 Blacks are running for federal office, including 37 Black incumbents, all of whom are Democrats. Tim Scott, an unopposed South Carolina Republican, will join the new Congress, the first Black Republican to join Congress since J.C. Watts left in 2003.

In addition to the seats now held by Black House incumbents or where one Black is being comfortably replaced by another, four Congressional seats are in play. In Louisiana, State Rep. Cederick Richmond is expected to easily reclaim William Jefferson’s old House seat from Republican Joseph Cao.

Dan Seals is competitive in Illinois, but faces an uphill battle to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Joyce Elliott, Arkansas’ first Black major party nominee for the U.S. House, and Allen West, a Republican seeking a House seat from Florida, are considered long-shots, according to the Joint Center report.

“There is one [incumbent] Black candidate running for governor, Deval Patrick; Patrick is in a tough three-way race, but definite a winnable one,” the Joint Center report stated. “There are two Black candidates for lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown [MD], who is the incumbent and favored to win, and Yvette McGee Brown, who is running with Ted Strickland in Ohio in a race rated as a toss-up; no Black Democrat has ever been elected to statewide office in Ohio. Kamala Harris is the first Black woman nominated by a major party to statewide office in California. She is running to succeed Jerry Brown as Attorney General, and has a good chance to be elected.”

President Obama is walking a political tightrope by distancing himself from racial issues while simultaneously mobilizing his Black Democratic base by letting them know that he speaks their language.

For example, in a meeting with some Black columnists last week, he said: “There’s the old saying that when America gets a cold, Black America gets pneumonia. Well, that’s true here, too. We have seen obviously a huge spike in unemployment in the African-American community, with all the attendant problems that go with that.”

When the Jackie Robinson analogy was used to describe his election, Obama tip-toed back into safe terrain.

“…It’s not something I think about,” he said. “It’s not something that members of the administration think about. I think that’s one of those things that you will look back on with some historical perspective. When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, my suspicion is, on a day-to-day basis, what he was worrying about was hits – and how was Brooklyn doing. He was thinking about winning games. And then after he retired, he could look back and say, well, that was something. I tend to just focus on getting hits and making plays.”

But whether President Obama continues to get hits or strikes out will be determined in large measure by whether African-Americans step up to the ballot box on Nov. 2.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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