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The Missing Black Electorate

By Ron Walters

In one dramatic night of election victories, the Republican party has taken over the entire government of the United States. This was the situation at the end of the debacle of the 2000 election, but Republicans could not capitalize on it after Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched from the Republican party to the Democrats in the Senate.

Now, Republicans are responsible for producing public policies that confront many of the most complex problems in the country.
Republicans picked up three seats in the House and probably will control the Senate, which was undecided at the time of this writing, since they have 50 Senate seats with three undecided, two of them in Minnesota and Louisiana, where Democrats were expected to win. Much will be said about the influence of George Bush on the outcome, but his influence is not so much vested in him personally, although his ratings were in the 65 percent range in pre-election polling.
The key to his influence was that Bush has become the personification of the fears of Americans about their own personal security, and the election results show that those fears trumped economic insecurity. So, the campaign strategy of Karl Rove, the White House political adviser, to ''run on the war'' was not followed, since few Republicans actually ran on war and peace issues. Some, like Saxby Chambliss of Georgia did run on homeland security issues, and Bush campaigned on the fact that Democrats did not give him the Homeland Security Bill that he wanted. Nevertheless, the so-called ''war against terrorism'' was one of the hidden facets of this campaign, driving Americans' fears of their security and clinging to Bush to resolve them.
The other major factor that accounts for the Republican victories was the absence of the base vote of the Democratic party. Losses by Democrats in Georgia, Maryland, Texas, North Carolina and other states indicate that the Black vote, in particular, just did not turn out. The issues that Blacks, Hispanics and other constituencies that have been more dependent upon government, have cared about were not front and center in the agenda of the Democratic party. And in states such as Maryland, there was some alienation among Blacks that although the Republican candidate for governor picked a Black running mate, Michael Steele, the Democratic candidate, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend did not. Undoubtedly, this depressed the Black turnout in key areas of the state.
In Georgia, there may have been some residual fallout of the Cynthia Mckinney race that caused many Black voters to stay home, leading to the defeat of Charles Walker, the Black candidate in the 12th District. So, some local as well as national agenda issues may have been at play.
Finally, there is a confused leadership situation in the Democratic party, so that when one compares the clarity and force of the Republican message with what the Democrat had to offer, voters were not energized by the comparison. The Democrats used many individuals to convey their message, including the popular Bill Clinton. However, there were many Democratic parties with Richard Gephart running for President, and putting forth a wimpy position on the war with Iraq and “me too” message on cutting taxes with respect to the economy that might have been proposed by a Republican. So voters could not see the clear distinction between the Republican message and leadership and Democrats.
The bright light in all of this is that with the Republicans now in charge, if they mess up the complex issues of war and the economy for which they now have full responsibility, it sets up a good situation in 2004 for Democrats.

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