Democratic Operatives Are Working to Elect More Black Candidates in Congressional and Governor Races

Though the Democratic Party is considerably more inclusive and diverse than other political parties in the country, it has not traditionally done well in recruiting black candidates for elected office or putting significant amounts of money behind them. With midterms approaching and the potential for big Democratic wins, the party has been grappling with the tension between going after white working-class voters and mobilizing its faithful black base. Clearly, this isn’t an either/or proposition. But some see it as such. This has meant that local and national Democratic groups have questioned the viability of black candidates and have not invested money into races that could be historic—and increase black voter turnout in November.

As a result, Politico reports, some Democratic donors and operatives are putting their effort and cash into electing black candidates for Congress and governor’s races across the country.

They see the 2018 elections as a crucial opportunity to elect a wave of black candidates, especially to governorships, where only two African-Americans have been elected in U.S. history but a half-dozen prominent hopefuls are running this year. Many organizers also see running strong black candidates as a key way to inspire higher African-American voter turnout that will boost the whole Democratic Party in November.

Black candidates don’t necessarily equate to higher black turnout, especially in midterms where voter turnout is consistently lower than general elections. However, nothing about this year is ordinary. The person who made it to the White House immediately after our first black president is a racist and xenophobe who has called white supremacists “very fine people.” He is the same man who has done almost nothing while in office except attempt to harm the most vulnerable in America and undo the work of his predecessor. Black voters are well aware of this and are more motivated than ever.

A recent poll by BlackPAC shows that black voters know this era is no longer one of politics as usual. This presents tremendous opportunity to capitalize on the wave of resistance that is underway. To that end, it is the right time to not only concentrate on turning out black votes, but also to get behind black hopefuls—and not just the ones who represent majority-black districts. 

This idea has not always been well-received by the Democratic Party establishment.

At a fundraiser for Collective PAC, a political action committee for black candidates, former DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile spoke about the challenges faced by candidates and party operatives in supporting black candidates. According to Politico, she reminded the crowd “that young black politicians seeking office have been viewed as disruptive rather than encouraged in the past.”

“The fact that you are going to support, raise money, try to build a bench, and put more people in the pipeline to run for governor and lieutenant governor — you’re going to get in trouble,” Brazile said [...] “Barack Obama, when he first ran for United States Senate — we got in trouble because we raised money for him.”

Disruption and trouble aren’t always bad things. Many times, shaking things up can be exactly what an organization or system needs in order to reset. And the Democratic Party, while making gains in special elections and key races across the country, is badly in need of new tactics and a comprehensive strategy that will yield wins in November and in 2020.

Of course, the Party and donors want to get behind the candidate that they believe can actually win. The problem is that black candidates have often been ignored or deemed not viable. This is the time to test those assumptions—especially since a candidate cannot be viable without the money needed to campaign. 

There are some incredible black candidates across the country right now who could use the benefit of big-money. They include Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Andrew Gillum of Florida, who are both running for governor of their respective states. And as Politico writes, there are other high-profile races involving black candidates, apart from gubernatorial ones, that need funding. 

Several federal races have also become marquee attractions: Lauren Underwood, who is working to flip a predominantly white Illinois House district, is gaining national interest. So is Colin Allred, a former NFL player and HUD attorney who is in a primary runoff in the Dallas suburbs on Tuesday. Others are hoping to muster resources for Mississippi Senate candidate Mike Espy, who is aiming to follow in Alabama Sen. Doug Jones' footsteps as the next Democrat to win a Senate seat in the Deep South.

The small groups of donors and PACs who are behind these candidates are making headway, but they shouldn’t have to do it on their own. This is where super PACs, other progressive groups, and organizations with innovative approaches can come in. 

BlackPAC, a super PAC that draws money from Democratic heavyweights such as the SEIU and Priorities USA, has spent $3 million so far this cycle, which is the same amount that it spent in total during the 2016 elections.

Then there is a highly anticipated new entry: the not-yet-unveiled Black Economic Alliance, a coalition of black business executives who have been formalizing plans for a political organization over the last year. The group is spearheaded by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Director N. Anthony Coles, executive Gerald S. Adolph and Infor CEO Charles Phillips, according to documents filed with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission.

In some ways, the way that black candidates are often forced to organize within and get funding from black communities and black-led organizations mirrors the intense segregation in our society. Black candidates remain overlooked and underfunded by the Democratic Party establishment and have to go it alone. But that should not and cannot be the case in 2018.

Democrats know better and can be the political party that does better. There are governorships and Congressional seats at stake in the upcoming midterms. There is voter turnout to consider. It is also a decisive time for Democrats to crystallize the kind of open, inclusive party we want to be. We cannot do that if we aren’t willing to put our money where our rhetoric is. Supporting black candidates is not only the right thing to do, it’s the politically smart thing to do as well. 


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