The scramble for black votes

Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe


Every Democratic presidential hopeful wants my vote. As an African American woman voter, I’m part of the powerful voting bloc the DNC chair, Tom Perez, calls the “backbone” of the party. However, they’ll need to earn it.

During the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential debate, the subject of race and racism was front and center, and there were no winners. Instead, the debate highlighted the work all the white candidates need to do to win over black voters.

“Whether it’s the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, they need to understand from here on out the black vote isn’t free,” Marcus Wilkins wrote after watching the debate in the comment section of The New York Times.

In July 2018, DNC Chair Tom Perez issued an apology statement to black voters for the party taking us for granted over the years.

“I am sorry,” Perez stated. “We took too many people for granted and African Americans— our most loyal constituency—we all too frequently took for granted. That is a shame on us, folks, and for that, I apologize. And for that, I say, it will never happen again!”

I, like so many African Americans, was hoping for a fresh start.

In sharing his thoughts about the lack of people of color in the race, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) stated the following on C-Span on the night of the New Hampshire primary: “I wanted Cory and Kamala to remain on that stage. It is always difficult for candidates of color to raise the kind of money other candidates raise. We have to take that into account. We ought not make all our decisions based upon the deepest pockets. I do not believe that it is fair to candidates of color, black and brown, to make decisions based solely on money. We bring so much else to the ticket.”

Although African Americans amass in large numbers as Democrats, our disaffection with the GOP lead us to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Democratic Party once Republicans reneged on its formerly strong civil rights plank. It’s a cautionary tale to Democrats.

Trump’s State of the Union address was a call for black votes.

Trump’s address should be “a big wake-up call for Democrats,” according to CNN analyst Van Jones. “He knows he’s got to give a lot of red meat to his base. Religious liberty, abortion etc. and at the same time, warning the Democrats. What he was saying to African Americans can be effective. You may not like it, but he mentioned HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Black colleges have been struggling for a long time, a bunch of them have gone under. He threw a lifeline to them in real life in his budget.”

However, the Republican Party is no friend to black folks, either. Trump is trying to get just enough of our votes to win re-election. His State of the Union address with its reality show theatrics made good TV watching. The production may have won over a few more black voters, especially with his re-election initiative “Black Votes for Trump.” It has spent $1million making inroads into black communities with multiple strategies along gender and generational lines. For example, “Black Votes for Trump” are running ads in black-run newspapers and on radio stations across the country.

Trump needs only 14 percent of the black vote to win. He received eight percent of the total black vote in 2016, more than then-Republican presidential hopefuls John McCain and Mitt Romney received. His focus, however, is predominately to woo more black men like Tony Rankins, a recovering addict Trump asked to stand up during his State Of The Union address.

Rankins is a tradesman in an opportunity zone where wealthy Americans can invest in poor communities in exchange for tax benefits. 13 percent of black men voted for Trump last time versus only four percent of black women. Black men are the most disenfranchised group among us black voters. However, the Trump team sees this demographic group as untapped possibilities, especially with the 2018 passage of the First Step Act, a prison reform bill that aims to revise the federal prison system and some federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. With the unemployment rate at 6 percent for both Blacks and Latinx, Trump hopes to woo this group. The last time they may have voted was for Obama in 2008.

In August 2016, then-presidential hopeful Donald Trump at one of his rallies stated that the Democratic Party takes black voters for granted. In stumping for black votes in Dimondale, Michigan, where the population is 2.8 percent black, Trump asked, “What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump? … What the hell do you have to lose?”

Al Sharpton at the 2004 DNC in Boston answered why we do:

“The Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is true that Mr. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, after which there was a commitment to give 40 acres and a mule…. We didn’t get the mule. So we decided we’d ride this donkey as far as it would take us.”

The Democratic Party must do more than court African American voters. The party must address our issues, too.

You can reach Rev. Irene Monroe at: @revimonroe