Some black political leaders think Democratic candidates who distanced themselves from President Barack Obama sapped enthusiasm among African-Americans in states where they anchor the party’s base.
They point to Senate races in North Carolina, where Kay Hagan was denied a second term, and Georgia, where Michelle Nunn failed to capture an open seat, and Louisiana, where Mary Landrieu is in a runoff next month for a fourth term.
But it’s not clear that a larger turnout among blacks would have made a difference.
Obama lost all three states in the 2012 presidential election, and support for Democrats among African-Americans was roughly the same as in 2008, when Hagan and Landrieu were elected.
“The president is still a great driver of African-American turnout,” said North Carolina state Rep. Rodney Moore. “Kay Hagan supported him during her six-year tenure, so it seems disrespectful that she would not even defend the good things that have happened during his administration.”
Among whites, 73 percent in Louisiana, 67 percent in Georgia and 57 percent in North Carolina strongly disapproved of Obama.
Sixty-four percent of North Carolina white voters said Hagan agreed with Obama too often on the issues and 80 percent of Louisiana white voters said Landrieu did. That overall level of unpopularity means any potential benefit among blacks could have been offset by a candidate’s closer connection to the president.
“I don’t think there’s much more the (Hagan) campaign could have done,” said Dan Blue III, chairman of the Democratic Party in Wake County, North Carolina.
Blue, who is black, said Democrats just should the GOP election wave.
Hagan lost to Republican Thom Tillis by about 48,000 votes, or 1.7 percent. She focused on trying to brand Tillis, the North Carolina state House speaker, as an extremist. She did not apologize for supporting the Affordable Care Act, but avoided talking about it.
In January, she skipped an Obama speech at North Carolina State University, though she did greet him at the airport when he visited in August.
Linda Wilkins-Daniels, an officer in the state Democratic Party’s black caucus, said, “We worked hard for Kay Hagan, because Speaker Tillis scared us” for reasons such as stricter voting laws passed under his leadership. “But it’s almost like she didn’t really want our vote.”
Wilkins-Daniels said Democratic candidates missed an opportunity to use Obama to tell a success story and exploit differences with Republicans on issues such as minimum wage, financial regulation, student loans and health care.
“Unemployment is down, gas prices have dropped below $3 a gallon, the stock market is higher than it’s ever been, they’ve cut the deficit, and the health care law is helping people, no matter what Republicans say,” she said. “If a Republican president had that record, their candidates wouldn’t shut up about it.”
Increasing black turnout alone would not have translated into victories in Georgia and Louisiana, given the GOP margins among whites: 3 of 4 whites voted against Nunn, while more than 4 of 5 voted against Landrieu.
But those numbers make it more obvious that Democrats’ strategy was flawed, said Tharon Johnson, who helped run turnout operations for Obama’s presidential campaigns.
“The amount of resources that was spent on this race to recruit white voters was far more than the resources that were spent to expand the electorate with African-American, Latino and Asian base supporters,” Johnson said.
In Louisiana, where Landrieu faces Republican Bill Cassidy in a Dec. 6 runoff, the senator made headlines in the campaign’s closing days when she said Obama’s race factors into his poor standing in Louisiana.
She also has criticized Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., for refusing to expand Medicaid under the health overhaul.
But her television ads still emphasize her seniority in the Senate and hit Cassidy for voting to curtail Social Security and Medicare.
“She needs to remember quickly that her fortunes always rise and fall with African-Americans,” said state Sen. J.P. Morrell of New Orleans.
Nunn’s campaign manager, Jeff DiSantis, said second-guessing comes with losing.
“Obviously, we didn’t get out the votes we needed,” he said. “But everything you heard Michelle say about bipartisanship and the need for compromise, that wasn’t from consultants. That’s her. That’s what she truly believes.”
Georgia state Sen. Vincent Fort of Atlanta, who noted that Nunn won just 1.15 million votes to the 1.7 million Obama had two years ago, said the organizations charged with reaching minorities fell short, too.
The New Georgia Project, which aimed to register as many as 200,000 new voters, says it collected applications from 86,000 people.
“What we were promised never materialized,” he said, “and what we got wasn’t enough.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.