Mary L. Landrieu is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the U.S. Senate, and her chances of reelection this fall could come down to her ability to turn out African American voters like Barbara Brown.
Standing outside Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in the crisp white suit that marks her as an usher, Brown pursed her lips at the mention of months of television ads that have already aired attacking Landrieu and her vote for the national healthcare law, which Brown sees as an unfair rebuke of President Obama.
“Just disgusting — enough to make you sick to your stomach,” Brown said. All that criticism of Landrieu for “standing on the president’s side,” Brown said, has made her even more committed to supporting the three-term senator this fall and encouraging others to do the same.
“I like what she said,” Brown added, using a Landrieu line that appeared in one of the ads critical of the senator’s position on the healthcare law: “She says, ‘If I had to do it again, I would do it again.'”
Few senators up for reelection this fall face a more complex balancing act than Landrieu, who hails from a state that Obama lost by 18 percentage points in 2012. She is aggressively pursuing independents and Republicans, who have been key to her past wins but are unhappy with Obama’s performance. But central to her chances is reversing the traditional midterm drop-off in voting by black Louisianians, who make up 31% of the electorate.
Landrieu’s task reflects a larger imperative for Democrats this year and in 2016: to guarantee a massive turnout by the party’s most loyal voters when the nation’s first African American president is no longer anchoring the ballot.
Landrieu will have powerful partners this fall. Strategists at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are hiring field organizers for a $60-million effort in a dozen states to swell turnout among core Democratic groups such as African Americans and single women.
The goal, said Matt Canter, the committee’s deputy executive director, “is to make the electorate look more like it did in 2012 than it did in 2010.” With the data-driven tools that helped power Obama’s two presidential wins, he said, “we can alter the electorate.”
In five states that could be the most crucial to continued Democratic control of the Senate — Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan and North Carolina — party strategists believe there could be as many as 1.4 million unregistered African American voters, and they have already begun to pursue them.