Former president Barack Obama is finally joining the effort to get black voters to turn out in the Alabama Senate race. But given that his entry into the fray comes less than 24 hours before Election Day, some say it is the latest example of just how little effort has gone into black voter outreach in the race.
“This one's serious,” Obama says in a robo-call going out Monday, according to CNN. “You can't sit it out.”
“Doug Jones is a fighter for equality, for progress,” the former president added. “Doug will be our champion for justice. So get out and vote, Alabama.”
The calls are specifically aimed at getting black voters to turn out, a demographic Democrat Doug Jones needs to win the race. But multiple black voters have expressed a lack of zeal for the race between Jones, a former attorney who successfully prosecuted white supremacists who killed four black girls, and his Republican opponent — Roy Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice endorsed by President Trump.
Jones has the support of more than 90 percent of black voters, according to a Washington Post poll. But that might not be enough for victory in a state that hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate in decades.
Contrary to some people's perception, black voters don't back candidates just because other black people tell them to — perhaps especially in this post-Obama era, when many voters are demanding more than symbolism from their lawmakers.
Jarrod Loadholt, a D.C.-based political strategist who worked on the successful campaign for Birmingham Mayor-elect Randall Woodfin (D), previously told The Fix: “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.”
Some Alabama voters say they've yet to hear those messages and think Jones has spent time that could have been focused on connecting with black voters on attempting to flip white moderates.
Despite this, some fear that although Obama, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick did not aggressively enter the race until its final days, black voters will be blamed if Jones loses.
Given this, writer Jamil Smith said he does not know whether Obama's solicitation of black support helps as much as believed.
Other activists, such as April Reign, want politicos to know that Obama isn't a magician who is capable of correcting at the last minute what Alabamians on the ground got wrong throughout the election with their approach to black voter outreach.
And some wonder whether the Democratic establishment remembers one of the most important lessons to come from 2016:
The Obama effect does not always extend beyond the Obamas.
Obama — and his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama — campaigned aggressively in 2016 for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But black voters did not turn out for Clinton at the same rate they did for Obama in 2008, despite her promises to build on the Obama legacy.
While Clinton is given credit for much stronger black voter outreach than Jones has gotten thus far, many black voters stayed home because they were not fully convinced she would best represent their concerns in Washington — no matter what Obama told them.
The same may be said for Moore after Tuesday — and most black voters think they won't be the ones to blame.