People who believe their vote does not make a difference may be encouraged to know that in many close contests across the U.S., they have the power to sway the direction of the race.
There is a general consensus emerging that many voters of color are lacking enthusiasm this election season, with minority voters not expected to go to the polls with nearly the same level of participation as they did in 2008 — when President Obama was on the ballot. Nevertheless, African-Americans are well positioned to affect the outcome of as many as 20 House races, and 14 contests for Senate and Governor, according to David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
In a recently released study, Bositis pointed out that while blacks historically have had a lower voter participation rate than whites, that doesn’t mean they do not come out for midterm elections. Further, African-American voters are not dispersed across the nation, but rather are concentrated in fewer than half of the states and a quarter of the congressional districts. Obama has very high approval among blacks, who may view the president as unfairly attacked by Republicans. And the Democratic National Committee knows this, spending $3 million this season on black media, more than in previous midterms. This, as the White House just hosted a summit for black journalists and bloggers. The president has come under fire in recent months amid criticism that he has failed to keep his base, including young people and people of color, energized and engaged.
“The outcome is not as certain as many believe it to be. The extent of the Democrats’ losses will depend on their ability to turn out their most loyal voters, and no voting bloc will be more important to them than African-Americans,” said Bositis. “If they can mobilize a strong black turnout, the Democrats can significantly reduce their potential losses.”
The 20 House races are in 14 states mostly in the South: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
The 14 Senate races are Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The 14 gubernatorial races in play for black voters include Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas.
TheGrio takes a look at eleven key races around the country where the black vote can decide the election.
1. DELAWARE AT-LARGE HOUSE RACE (Black Vote: 19.6 percent). Former Lt. Gov. John Carney has a slight edge over real estate investor and Tea Party favorite Glen Urquhart. Urquhart — who is faring better than Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell — has made controversial statements in recent months. At an April campaign event, he called liberals Nazis for favoring a separation of church and state. The seat is currently held by Republican Rep. Mike Castle, who forfeited his seat to run for Senate. The moderate was beaten in the primary by O’Donnell who, in turn, is polling way below Democratic opponent Chris Coons, New Castle County executive.
2-3. FLORIDA SENATE AND GOVERNOR’S RACES (Black Vote: 14.7 percent). The fight for the Florida Senate seat is a three-way race among Tea Party candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL), Republican turned independent Gov. Charlie Crist, and African-American member of Congress Kendrick Meek. Meek has been polling behind Crist and Latino frontrunner Rubio, with news that Crist would consider caucusing with the Democrats if elected. President Clinton reportedly spoke with Meek in an effort to persuade him to drop out of the race and increase Crist’s chances of winning. But like Don Cheadle’s character in the movie Rosewood, Meek “ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Meanwhile, the race for governor has the Democrat, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, in a close race with health-care executive Rick Scott. Scott, who has spent $60 million of his own money on the campaign, was head of Columbia/HCA, a national hospital chain that bilked the state and federal government’s health care programs. The company pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and paid a record $1.4 billion fine as part of a federal fraud investigation.
4. GEORGIA GOVERNOR’S RACE (Black Vote: 29.2 percent). Former Congressman Nathan Deal (R-GA) is ahead of former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes (D-GA) in the tight gubernatorial race in this red state. Third party libertarian candidate John Monds could act as a spoiler in the contest, denying the winner the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Georgia is the only state that requires a runoff after the general election if no candidate has received 50 percent of the vote. Democrats are only a third of likely voters to cast ballots on Tuesday, making the black vote all the more important.5. ILLINOIS SENATE RACE (Black Vote: 13.8 percent). U.S. Senate candidates Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias are in a dead heat to take the seat currently held by Sen. Roland Burris, and occupied by President Obama before him. Both candidates have had troubles — Kirk embellished his military record and is accused of conducting a voter intimidation program in black Chicago neighborhoods, while questions loom about Giannoulias’ role as vice president of a failed community bank. Several state advocacy groups that once backed Kirk in past contests are now endorsing Giannoulias.
6. KENTUCKY SENATE RACE (Black Vote: 6.8 percent). In the contest for Senate in Kentucky, Tea Party favorite and eye doctor Rand Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), is favored slightly ahead of state Attorney General Jack Conway. The race has gotten ugly on both sides. The wild card is the black vote, and whether Paul’s statements against civil rights legislation — not to mention the contributions he received from white supremacist groups — will make a difference at the polls. As a side note, 1 in 4 black men cannot vote in Kentucky due to a felony conviction, and the state is only one of two that bar felons from voting for life. Kentucky and Virginia require ex-felons to apply to the governor to have their voting rights restored.
7. MISSISSIPPI DISTRICT 1 RACE (Black Vote: 23.7 percent). State Sen. Alan Nunnelee is giving Rep. Travis Childers a run for his money in this district that went 62 percent for Sen. John McCain in 2008. Mississippi is the blackest state in the Union, with an African-American population of over 37 percent.
8. NEVADA SENATE RACE (Black Vote: 8.3 percent). Incumbent Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is in the fight of his life against Tea Party challenger Sharron Angle. The senate majority leader has made no serious gaffes this election season in his bid for a fifth term. Rather, he is a potential casualty of the times. A bad economy has fueled an anti-incumbent mood, on which the Tea Party has sought to capitalize. And times are especially hard in Nevada, with the nation’s highest foreclosure and unemployment rates. The wild card in this race is the possible backlash in Latino and black communities over Angle’s Willie Horton-style television ads, which offended the Latino community with its negative depictions of illegal aliens.
9-10. PENNSYLVANIA SENATE AND GUBERNATORIAL RACES (Black Vote: 9.6 percent). The race for the Senate in the Keystone state pits former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) against Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), and it is likely to be a close one. Meanwhile, in the governor’s race, Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato is struggling against state Attorney General Tom Corbett. James Carville said that “Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between.” The key in this race is Democratic turnout in Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, and the five surrounding counties. Democrats have a registration edge of 1.1 million, but President Obama and the first lady have made the rounds here in the final days to close the enthusiasm gap among Democrats.
11. SOUTH CAROLINA DISTRICT 5 RACE (Black Vote: 30 percent). In this House contest, 14-term Democratic incumbent John Spratt is in a tough fight against Republican State Senator Mick Mulvaney. If the GOP wins control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) will no longer serve as Majority Whip.