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The scramble for black votes

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 Democratic National Committee chair, Tom Perez, calls the “backbone” of the party. However, they’ll need to earn it.

During the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary 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.

In July 2018, 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.” He went on, “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.

Although African Americans amass in large numbers as Democrats, our disaffection with the GOP led us to FDR’s Democratic Party once the Republican party reneged on its once-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.,”  Jones stated. “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. 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. Trump is trying to get just enough of our votes to win reelection. His SOTU address may have won over a few more black voters, especially with his  “Black Votes for Trump” reelection initiative. It has spent $1 million making inroads into black communities with multiple strategies along gender and generational lines, including running ads in black-run newspapers and on radio stations across the country.

Trump needs only 14% of the black vote to win. He received 8% in 2016, more than previous Republican hopefuls John McCain and Mitt Romney received. His focus, however, is primarily to woo more black men, like Tony Rankins, a recovering addict Trump asked to stand up during his SOTU address. Rankins is a tradesman in an Opportunity Zone, where wealthy Americans can invest in poor communities in exchange for tax benefits. While 13% of black men voted for Trump last time, only 4% of black women did. Black men are the most disenfranchised group among us black voters, but the Trump team sees this demographic as an untapped possibility, 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% for both blacks and Latinx, Trump hopes to woo this group whose last time voting may have been in 2008 for Obama.

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% black, Trump asked, addressing all black voters in general, “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 Democratic National Convention in Boston, gave an answer:

“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,” Sharpton said. “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.

Irene Monroe is a theologian and syndicated columnist.

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