Black Lawmakers are the Force Behind Democratic Southern Voter Push

U.S. Reps. Marcia Fudge, left center, D-Ohio, and Bobby Scott, D-Va., visited the Greater St. Stephens Full Gospel Baptist Church Sunday Oct. 19 to urge voters to turn out for the midterm election to support Sen. Mary Landrieu. (Photo: Edmund D Fountain, for USA TODAY)
U.S. Reps. Marcia Fudge, left center, D-Ohio, and Bobby Scott, D-Va., visited the Greater St. Stephens Full Gospel Baptist Church Sunday Oct. 19 to urge voters to turn out for the midterm election to support Sen. Mary Landrieu.
(Photo: Edmund D Fountain, for USA TODAY)

After two hours of singing, praying and preaching that rattled the rafters at Beacon Light International Cathedral, Rep. Marcia Fudge took her turn on stage.

“You are here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break. Your job is to stand up for the powerless,” she recited from Psalms, and then added her own message: “If you have had enough of schools that don’t work … you must vote. If you want to be sure that they don’t raise the age of Social Security or cut Medicare and Medicaid, you must vote. And you must vote if you are tired of the attacks on our president. You must vote.”

It was the same message Fudge, a Democrat from Cleveland, repeated Sunday at Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Church, at New Israel Baptist and at Greater Liberty Baptist. All are in New Orleans, the biggest pocket of African-American voters in Louisiana. Black voters in the state make up 30% of the total electorate.

Accompanying Fudge was Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott. “I came down from Virginia,” he said at St. Stephen. “Can’t tell you who to vote for — but you know what to do.”

The eve of the early voting period in Louisiana, which starts Tuesday, signals the final push in a major effort by the Democratic Party to increase turnout by black voters in the midterm election — a strategy the party believes could be the only way to save Sen. Mary Landrieu and other vulnerable Democrats as they struggle to maintain control of the U.S. Senate.

Landrieu, who is seeking a fourth term, faces Republicans Rep. Bill Cassidy and Rob Maness, and trails Cassidy in recent polls by an average of 5 percentage points.

Republicans have also begun trying to reach out to black voters in southern states including Louisiana, where they have hired field staff, and on college campuses. Sen. Rand Paul, a potential presidential candidate, said last week that the GOP could claim one-third of black votes in the 2016 election by pushing anti-incarceration and pro-school voucher policies. But black voters currently remain overwhelmingly Democratic: President Obama received 93% of the African-American vote in 2012.

Next weekend, Congressional Black Caucus members will make church visits in Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan — all states with significant numbers of black voters, and all states where Democratic ability to win or hold onto a Senate seat is threatened.

On Sunday, other members of Congress went to churches in Baton Rouge, Alexandria and Shreveport. Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis will visit Louisiana this week, so will Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. And on Monday, the big dog arrives: Landrieu will hold a rally with former president Bill Clinton.

Turnout among black voters, a core Democratic constituency, has been steadily rising in presidential elections, from 53% in 1996 to 66% in 2012. But like other groups of voters, their turnout drops dramatically in midterm election years: in 2010, 44% of black voters went to the polls.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is spending $60 million and has hired 4,000 field staff for its voter-turnout project. In addition, the committee is spending millions on ads targeted to black voters, primarily on radio, including $1 million in North Carolina alone.

“Turnout is without a doubt our biggest challenge,” spokesman Justin Barasky says. “This cycle, we’re making an unprecedented investment.”

In Louisiana, registration among black voters is at an all-time high: at least 923,000 compared with 898,000 during the 2010 midterm elections, according to the state Democratic Party. In New Orleans, purple-and-gold “Vote Early” yard signs dot corners and line medians. A black-oriented radio station plays a Landrieu ad in which state Democratic chairwoman Karen Carter Peterson runs down a list of Landrieu’s accomplishments and adds, “If you only knew how much some people want you to stay home . . . you’d be first in line.”

Black voters are concerned about issues including education funding and safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare, all of which would be threatened by a Republican controlled Senate, Fudge says. “Once we can tell our people what is at stake in the election, they will vote. And if they vote, we will win,” she told USA TODAY.

But a lot of the appeal to black voters is simply to support President Obama. While national polls have his popularity at all-time lows, among black voters he is still revered, she says.

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SOURCE: USA Today – Martha T. Moore

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