Next Tuesday’s US Elections in Black and White
By Al Giordano
You may have heard that Democrats have a problem this November and are at risk of losing control of the US Congress in Tuesday's elections. Whose fault is that? I’m going to tell you the whole truth even though many of you won’t like hearing it: If the House goes down, it’s going to be the fault of white people.
No, I’m not talking about Republicans or Tea Party bigots. I’m talking about white Democrats and liberals who don’t turn out to vote in midterm elections. Hey liberal pundits and bloggers: We have met the enemy and it is us. Look no farther than the mirror to find a scapegoat for next Tuesday’s electoral debacle if it happens.
With Nate Silver predicting a 52 vote swing in the US House to the Republican side (39 are needed to change the party in power) and the Cook Report estimating GOP gains of 48 to 60 seats, and Jay Cost saying it could be way more than 60, and lots of chatter about an “enthusiasm gap” in which Republican voters will turn out in bigger numbers while enough Democrats stay home to throw them the US House gavel, I can’t find any data (except in California, where Democrats are going to be just fine; and that’s good for Democrats, because California has the most US House seats, 53, of any state) to demonstrate otherwise. In other words, I’m saying they’re probably right, and the Democrats have only one Hail Mary pass left and its name is Organizing for America. And if the day is saved it is OfA and its army of volunteers - that might be you - that will deserve all the credit and none of the blame if it goes the other way.
I had hoped to be able to identify the 20 or 30 key Congressional Districts in play this year and wrap them up neatly for you here. The problem is that even now, just six days out, there are as many as 100 districts in play (yes, if everything goes wrong for Democrats all at once, Tuesday could be a massacre nearing those proportions): roughly one out of every five districts and almost half of all US House Democrats are at some risk (in fact, it is about half of all Democratic seats outside of California that could be in play).
Pundits are wondering aloud why it is that the Democrats can be in such danger of losing the House, but appear to be on the verge of maintaining a Senate majority. They tend to settle on, “well, Senate races are more personality driven,” and to a limited extent that is true. But here is the real reason why Democratic Senators are safer next Tuesday than so many Democratic US House members: Congressional districting.
Every ten years state legislatures are given the new census numbers and told how many US House seats their state will have, and are then charged with drawing a new map to reflect population shifts so that all Congressional Districts have roughly the same size of population. And in general, district lines are drawn to create black districts, white districts and, increasingly, Hispanic districts. And African American leaders and organizations are all for this because they get more Congressional representation by members of their demographic group. And white leaders and organizations are all for this because they get to have districts where their politicians don’t even have to shake many black people’s hands, much less attend to the needs and demands of that (more organized) sector of the American citizenry. And everybody in power is happy with this deal – courts have even backed it up – until, perhaps, now, when it is going to have a real impact.
But back to the Senate contests: Why are enough Democratic US Senate seats likely to remain Democratic while in those very same states US House seats are going to the GOP? It’s because they can’t redistrict state lines to separate the whites and the blacks. And those who blab on about an “enthusiasm gap” between Democrats and Republicans obviously talk only to white folks, because among African-Americans there is no lack enthusiasm or voter participation. If anything, they’re more enthusiastic to turn out and vote this year than Republicans and tea baggers. And since African-Americans are the reliable core of the Democratic “base vote,” white liberal pundits and bloggers who whine that “Obama hasn’t fired up the base” obviously have the same problem a lot of white politicians have in that they don’t have much exposure to black folks in daily life. They certainly don’t have a clue as to who makes up “the Democratic base.” The biggest demographic sector of “the base” is already fired up and ready to vote. So who is not as likely to vote? Young white people, mostly; those cell phone voters we identified last week in California who are likely turning out there because Proposition 19 to legalize and tax marijuana is on the ballot, but who don’t exactly identify with the political culture of Washington of which Democratic politicians, like Republicans, too often resemble wind-up Ken and Barbie dolls with strings pulled by lobbyists and special interests. They look the same, they sound the same, and they say the same empty phrases over and over again whenever their strings are pulled.
These folks turned out in record numbers in 2008 because presidential candidate Barack Obama didn’t look or sound the same. And he’s still different, and still popular (more popular than Reagan or Clinton were at this point in their first terms) and no matter how it goes down on Tuesday he’ll likely still be reelected in 2012, because then everybody will turn out to vote.
With only one exception I can think of, virtually all the Democratic House members going down on Tuesday represent predominantly white districts outside of California. Congressional redistricting has literally zoned them out of representation of African-American voters. Thus, there is no cavalry coming to rescue them if you can't or won't do it.
But if Democrat Joe Sestak suddenly pulls off a surprise victory in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, it will be because the 9.6 percent of that state’s population that is African-American rescued him. And if Alex Giannoulias pulls out a come-from-behind victory to become the junior Senator from Illinois, that will be because the 14.6 percent of that state’s population that is African-American put him over the top. If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid survives, guess who will have saved his ass? The 6.4 percent of Nevadans who are African-American, voting in bigger numbers than their actual per capita of the population. Senator Russ Feingold: the 5.4 percent of the people you represent in Wisconsin may be your last hope, too. They're turning out to vote. It's the rest of the citizenry that poses a problem.
Democratic Senators Patty Murray in Washington state, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Michael Bennett in Colorado, and US Senate candidate Paul Hodes in New Hampshire – all in states where African-Americans make up less than five percent of the vote – will only win if young white and Hispanic voters get their butts to the polls on Tuesday. (And, frankly, Sestak, Giannoulias, Reid and Feingold need plenty of that kind of help too.) Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer in California is likely going to get reelected because the marijuana referendum will pull enough young voters to the polls (and also because the 6.1 percent of her state’s population that is African-American will turn out in big numbers).
For the Democratic Senate and House candidates in overwhelmingly white states and districts, the last and only hope is the ground war: that their field organizations and that of Organizing for America can drag enough first time voters from 2008 and other young and Hispanic folks who don’t usually vote in midterm elections and get them to the ballot box (or bring the mail-in ballot to them). Organizing for America is targeting these potential voters and also you. They want you to help make seven million phone calls this week, something, they remind, that you can do from home or work and they’ll set you up with the list, the script or even invite you to a phone bank location in your area where you can do it together with other interesting people like you who aren’t just sitting around complaining and worrying.
There is no doubt that Democrats will suffer losses next Tuesday. Almost always, the party in the White House loses some Congressional seats during the midterms. That’s the contrary nature of so much of the American electorate: If I can’t find my socks this morning, it’s the fault of the party in power. But whether Tuesday is the electoral blow-out that so many in the media are predicting, or closer to a normal midterm result, is not up to Obama, and will not be because of “what Obama did or didn’t do,” and anybody who comes around next Wednesday or beyond trying to sell that used car will get interrogated from this corner: How many phone calls did you personally make? How many voters did you personally turn out? Hit the phones, or pound sand. Armchair presidents need not apply. Between now and Tuesday, we’re all Mr. and Mrs. President. That’s how democracy was designed to work. The only missed opportunity this week will be your own.