In response to concerns that black voters are not energized in the Alabama Senate race, the Democratic Party is sending some of its most high-profile black lawmakers to the state with the hope they can help Doug Jones defeat Roy Moore.
Sen. Cory Booker will visit Alabama this weekend during an aggressive final push to turn out black voters in a Tuesday’s special election.
Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.), the state’s only black member of Congress, has organized a slate of campaign events Sunday that are also expected to include civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who marched for voting rights for black Americans in Selma.
But with less than a week to go, is it too late to rally the black electorate?
Jarrod Loadholt, a D.C.-based political strategist who worked on the successful campaign for Birmingham Mayor-elect Randall Woodfin, told The Fix:
“It's a national race, so we should expect notable, national Democrats to weigh in — especially the likes of Lewis and Booker. But campaign events with notable surrogates is not an effective African American outreach. I am hoping that the Jones campaign has done the kind of substantive outreach to black voters in Alabama on the issues that matter to them. It is not enough to tell me why the other guy is bad. We need affirmative messaging that tells what a vote for Doug Jones does for our communities.”
More than 90 percent of likely black voters in the state are backing Jones, according to a Washington Post poll, conducted after allegations surfaced that Moore sexually assault teenage girls. Black voters make up more than a quarter of Alabama's electorate and tend to vote heavily Democratic. But Jones has faced continued criticism that he has not put forward a specific platform addressing the concerns of black voters.
What Jones did for black Alabamians decades ago, when he prosecuted the 1963 Birmingham church bombers, may not be enough to mobilize black voters — even if he is facing a candidate who appeared to romanticize a time of slavery, according to an LA Times report.
“I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another. … Our families were strong, our country had a direction,” Moore said at a rally when asked by an African American when America was last “great.”
Benard Simelton, the president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, previously told The Post that his group is trying to get black voters engaged in elections other than the presidential race by making phone calls to what he termed “sometimes voters.”
“I hate to say it: A lot of people are apathetic about voting, because they don’t think their vote counts,” he said.
One reason black voters don’t believe their vote counts is because Alabama has not elected a Democrat to Congress in decades. And some believe that the Jones campaign has prioritized wooing moderate white voters who have been turned off by the allegations against Moore, over policies attractive to black residents.
Also, Alabama’s long history of suppressing black voters has made some conclude that this is a losing fight. The Atlantic’s Vann Newkirk wrote about the challenges some black voters face in casting their ballots:
“Alabama was one of the collection of Southern states that either passed or began enforcing new voter ID laws after the requirement for federal pre-clearance was effectively made null. While the state’s requirement is not as strict as the well-publicized laws of some other states, and does allow voters to receive free voter-ID cards, the implementation of the law still appeared to be more about discrimination than anything else.”
In theory, anything could happen. But to some observing the black voter outreach in Alabama, it's a reminder of the 2016 election — when Hillary Clinton failed to attract the support she needed to win. This last-minute push brings up anxieties that liberal lawmakers in the Trump era are more interested in appealing to white swing voters turned off by conservatives than connecting to loyal, black Democratic voters.