The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Will black voters be House Democrats’ midterm firewall?

No one expects the Democrats to win the House when voters hit the polls this November.

In fact, historical trends say that in the sixth year of Obama's presidency, the Democrats stand to fall into an even smaller House majority and potentially lose control of the Senate.

"Undoubtedly it is a very tough climate. The president's party averages a net loss of 29 seats in a midterm election," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel said. "The biggest challenge we have is a drop off in our base."

But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, charged with making sure that seat deficit doesn't grow any larger, is hoping to mobilize the same coalition of votes — specifically black voters — who propelled Obama to election and reelection to boost their candidates this fall.

"We have a unique challenge in offsetting drop off with African American voters, with Hispanic voters, and with young female voters," Israel said. "So we're tackling those challenges head on.

The DCCC has undertaken a new black voter outreach initiative — which the committee says is the most expansive and expensive project in the history of the DCCC —  that has consisted of demographic focus groups, battleground polling, ad testing and renewed ground game in black neighborhoods.

In 15 of the top 25 House seats being targeted by the DCCC this cycle, African Americans make up at least 10 percent of the voting-age population. In close races that will likely be decided by just a few points, the DCCC believes boosting turnout among those black voters by just a few points could keep them be competitive in places they would otherwise lose this year.

"Every single one of those voters in those districts make a difference, they matter," said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), who has led recruitment for the DCCC this cycle.

The challenge, the DCCC acknowledge, remains major. According to battleground polling conducted by the DCCC this year, 67 percent of Democratic "base voters" (African Americans, Hispanics, young women) were not aware that there was an election this year.

Those numbers have been backed up by outside polls that have found the Republican base much more engaged in the 2014 election cycle than Democratic base voters.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted this month found that 45 percent of registered voters who plan to support the Republican in their district say they are more enthusiastic about voting than in prior congressional elections — compared with 37 percent of those who plan to vote for the Democratic candidate.

So how will the DCCC engage black voters and convince them to show up in November?

Israel and other top DCCC officials say their messaging will focus on "contrast" — similar to the legislative messaging driven by Democrats on the Hill this year, who engaged in a series of "Fair Shot for All" messaging bills in support of minimum wage, paycheck fairness and renewing long-term unemployment insurance.

Another essential plank in the Democratic pitch to black voters in 2014 is a defense of President Obama, who — polling consistently shows — still enjoys broad support in black communities.

"Some of the over-the-top attacks on the president are viewed by many in the African American community as being unfair," explained Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, which is nonpartisan, in an interview Wednesday. "To many, lots of the attacks on his citizenship, on his character and on his patriotism, in many cases, appear to just be veiled racism."

The DCCC has made extensive use in recent weeks of the fact that some conservatives have called for Obama's impeachment in fundraising pitches, bringing in millions of dollars over the weekend.

They have also released voter turnout ads featuring Michelle Obama as part of their "One Million" votes campaign to mobilize left-leaning minority voters.

Republican operatives said that the currently push underscores a long-made GOP argument: that Democrats take black voters for granted.

“This Johnny-Come-Lately initiative from the DCCC only validates what we’ve been hearing from black voters all along - Democrats take them for granted," said Orlando Watson, a spokesman for the GOP. "While it should come as no surprise, it’s clear the intense ground game being undertaken by the RNC is now forcing the DCCC to show up in these communities and actually compete.”

Democratic strategists both inside and outside of the DCCC believe that if they can effectively link 2014 to President Obama — making the pitch that he is personally under attack and in need of their vote this year — they may be successful at driving black turnout.

"African American voters want this president to succeed," Edwards said. "When we talk with them and they know there is an election, they connect this president's success with their turning out to vote."