Does Race Still Matter?

The following ideas are from the third chapter of the book Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression.

In December 2002, Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell had the political opportunity of her life.  A month earlier, the Republicans had regained a majority in the United States Senate, securing 51 seats out of 100.  Conservatives across the nation were now looking for Terrell to fortify the Republicans' slim majority by beating Louisiana's incumbent U.S. Senator, Democrat Mary Landrieu, in a runoff election on December 7.

A few days before the December 7 runoff election, pollsters proclaimed the race between Terrell and Landrieu a dead heat.  One poll showed Landrieu at 47% and Terrell at 45%, with 8% of voters undecided.  "It is a toss-up," said pollster Brad Coker, who noted that in most elections undecided voters lean toward the challenger.

But Terrell, like many Republicans around the country, had a problem.  Polls showed that although 58% of whites supported Terrell, only 6% of African Americans said they would vote for her.  Other Republican candidates had invested time and money trying to attract black votes with little success.  The best use of Terrell's finite resources seemed to be to win over undecided moderate voters.  She could only hope that fellow Republicans like U.S. Senator Trent Lott would avoid race-tinged comments that might stimulate African-American turnout and alienate white moderates.  

Terrell's Democratic opponent, Senator Mary Landrieu, had a different race problem.  Black Louisianans accounted for 32.5% of the state's population, but made up only 26% of the electorate in the November 5 primary--the lowest in the previous ten years.  She could have avoided the entire runoff if she had secured a majority of the votes in the primary.  Why didn't African Americans turn out for her?

Blacks had their reasons.  Democratic State Senator Cleo Fields and many other African-American leaders claimed that Landrieu failed to respond to the needs of their community.  They resented that she wooed conservative white voters by boasting how she voted with Republican President George W. Bush 74% of the time.  "African-American voters should not be taken for granted by any elected official in a state that has such a high African-American population," Fields warned.  

The polls for the December showdown shifted based on projections of black voter turnout.  One poll showing Landrieu and Terrell tied if African Americans made up only 23% of the electorate revealed that Landrieu would enjoy a six-point lead if black turnout reached 28%.  A final poll taken by Terrell's pollster, Verne Kennedy, the night before the election showed Terrell would win if African Americans made up only 26% of those who voted.  "The higher it gets over 26 percent," said independent pollster Brad Coker, "the greater Landrieu's odds" of winning.

By noon on Election Day it was clear Landrieu might lose.  Early reports showed turnout in African-American precincts to be lighter than expected.  And Landrieu's opponents were on the attack.  African-American youths held up signs in black neighborhoods parroting earlier statements by Democrat Cleo Fields: "Mary, if you don't respect us, don't expect us." The Louisiana Republican Party orchestrated and bankrolled the "grassroots" demonstration.  

Other, less "accurate" postings had previously appeared.  An unsigned flyer spread in African-American public housing complexes in New Orleans just before the runoff election claimed:

"Vote!!! Bad Weather?  No problem!!! If the weather is uncomfortable on election day (Saturday December 7th) Remember you can wait and cast your ballot on Tuesday December 10th." 

There was no rain date for voters to fall back on.  The origins of this misleading flyer were never discovered.  

The Landrieu campaign knew it was in big trouble.  At 1:00 p.m., Louisiana native and former Al Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile set up a conference call with Landrieu, Cleo Fields, and former President Bill Clinton.  One veteran political reporter said that "Brazile and Clinton were extremely blunt with Fields" in insisting that he immediately step up his get-out-the-vote operations in African-American neighborhoods in Baton Rouge.  After the call, Landrieu raced to heavily black precincts in New Orleans with two popular African-American officials, Mayor Ray Nagin and Congressman William Jefferson.  The trio and volunteers canvassed the community until the polls closed at 8:00 p.m.  The Democratic phone banks did an all-out targeting of African-American neighborhoods from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. urging residents to go out and vote.

The efforts worked.  African-American turnout in Fields's district was 3.5% higher than in the November 5 primary. Statewide, the efforts by the Democrats pushed African-American turnout to 335,000--27.1% of the electorate.  Summing up Landrieu's victory a week later, Time Magazine reported that "[i]n the end, Landrieu managed to galvanize just enough of her crucial African-American base to break ahead."

Colorblindness may be politically correct, but it isn't politically accurate.  As the Landrieu-Terrell contest in Louisiana shows, race is important largely because of the differences in voting patterns between whites and people of color.  And these differences do not merely stem from racial disparities in class.  Due to different voting patterns, racial turnout determines election outcomes through the United States.  

Tags: Landrieu, Louisiana, race (all tags)

Comments

28 Comments

Re: Does Race Still Matter?

I see your point. But what happens now that LA's black population has fallen. For Landrieu and other Democrats in LA to remain politically viable they are going to have to get more white votes. Personally, because LA is home to a lot of Cajun Catholics, I don't see the party's fortunes being dead in LA.

But Fields and Landrieu's dislike for each other stems from the 1995 Governor's race. Landrieu finished third in the primary, which enabled Mike Foster to defeat Fields by a 2-1 margin. Fields felt agnry because Landrieu "didn't support him" even though he would have lost anyway.

So this carried over into 1996. Fields threw temper tantrums, especially as the Courts ruled his district unconstitutional. So he hemmed and hawed, and that's part of the reason why Landrieu eked out a 5,000 vote win against Woody Jenkins.

But how do the Democrats solve their problems in LA now? Now that Hurricane Katrina has emptied out New Orleans, I assume that many of the blacks moved to Baton Rouge. How does the Democratic Party win now that Lousiana is admittedly less black?

by jiacinto 2006-07-28 08:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

How does the Democratic Party win now that Lousiana is admittedly less black?

By being real Democrats.

by Sitkah 2006-07-28 10:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

I remember Landrieu blitzing the black community in NO in the days before the runoff. They turned out for her -- and she repaid them by turning her back on them as soon as she won.

When she finally officially jumps parties, I hope Democrats celebrate.

by Sitkah 2006-07-28 10:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

So if every Senator who didn't match your litmus test, how many would we have left? 15? 5? 1? 0?

Honestly, sometimes I wonder if you're just another Republican Troll.

by KainIIIC 2006-07-28 11:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

There's no need for name calling.

And if every Democrat passed my test there would probably 100 of them in the Senate. Selling out Democrats isn't the way to win elections -- and what's the point of winning under such conditions?

I sometimes wonder myself if Democrats who apologize for DINOs aren't really Republicans themselves.

by Sitkah 2006-07-29 07:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

If every Democrat in DC lived up to the principles and platform of the Democratic Party there would probably be 100 Dem senators.

Honestly, sometimes I wonder if those who apologize for DINOs like Landrieu are just Republican Trolls. But I know that they're just well meaning but misguided people who haven't caught on yet as to why the Democratic Party has sunk so low -- I know because I used to be one of them.

by Sitkah 2006-07-29 03:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

Typical far left answer. So, of course, you would rather have an "R" in that seat because you can't get a far left Democrat in there. You're type that would be happy with only 35 Democrats in the US Senate as long as they were "real".

by jiacinto 2006-07-28 11:07PM | 0 recs
Single Issue Groups

You are parroting the very lines that have put Dems in subservience to the Republician Administration.  This is reciting the mantra of the single issue groups.... 'Candidate X does not wholeheartedly support my cause, therefore I will work to make them loose.'

This, rather than have someone in office who will support the underlying principles when they are attacked by an Republican Administration, Republican Senate, Republican Congress, Republican Court.

Case in point; Nevada.  Minority Leader Reid is a Conservative Democrat. He does not support Abortion rights. Yet, the Democratic Minority Leader has led the fight to protect social security, gain relief for Katrina victims, and block abortion votes from coming up for consideration.  He does not enjoy the active support of NARAL in this state, but neither does he have their opposition.  They do not oppose him because he is far more preferable than the stable of Republicans and Reid should not be defeated because of this single issue, even though the Republican candidate may be pro-choice.

There are a lot of issues where Reid's position does that do not make me happy, but I still support him because he represents the Principles that I believe in.  Unless someone comes forward who can win and who's beliefs are more closely alligned to mine to oppose him, he will have my unwavering support. (Case in point: Connecticut).

By Fields working to defeat Landrieu, he sets up the very scenario that he absolutely needs to avoid, putting the enemy in charge.  As we have seen, the payback for Democratic support leading to a Republican victory has been very brutal to the base.

It's no longer issues, it's principles and what banner you wear. Perhaps this from George Lakoff Sums it up:


Progressives: Social security, the minimum wage, universal health care, college for all are ways to guarantee freedom from want.

Conservatives: Giving people things they haven't earned creates dependency and robs people of their freedom.

Who's world would you rather live in?

by NvDem 2006-07-29 07:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Single Issue Groups

You just called Reid a conservative. So, since your definition of a liberal sounds so much better, I'd like to replace him with one.

by Sitkah 2006-07-29 07:44AM | 0 recs
I don't think you get it.

I called him conservative Democrat. He, and I share the same base beliefs on the structure and purpose of government.  We differ on some issues, but he will have my unwavering support because he is a Democrat, and we have shared beliefs in the purpose and structure of government, not because he is a conservative on some issues.

I think that perhaps you are confusing some of the words that Lakoff uses with the meaning I attribute to the same words (English is such an inexact language after all).  I am using the word conservative to describe Reid's position on some of the Issues.  Lakoff is using the word conservative  to describe a system of belief's in the purpose and structure of government.  Using Lakoff's definition, Reid is most certainly a Progressive. I support Progressives even though I may not agree with some of their positions on issues.  

This is what led me to the Connecticut example.  Lieberman seems to have strayed from the Lakoff definition of a progressive.  Therefore, Lieberman does not deserve my support.

Clearer now?

by NvDem 2006-07-29 08:52AM | 0 recs
Re: I don't think you get it.

I think you're talking in circles.

You call Reid a conservative, then denigrate conservatives -- with the exception of Reid. Finally, you call him a liberal.

Whatever.

by Sitkah 2006-07-29 03:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

I guess you're the type who's happy that 15 -20 so called Democrats vote with Republicans almost every time?

Supprting anyone with a D after their name in fact weakens the Democratic Party and the principles upon which it should stand.

by Sitkah 2006-07-29 08:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

I'm not just for far left Democrats. But I must admit that I don't have much use for far right and corporatist ones.

by Sitkah 2006-07-29 03:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

Sorry, if every Senator who didn't match your litmus test were to leave the party*

by KainIIIC 2006-07-28 11:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

We could run real Democrats against them -- like Lamont v. Lieberman.

by Sitkah 2006-07-29 07:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

If there are still people who think race doesn't matter have them go read (if they can) a book called "Sundown Towns". It will finish the argument once and for all.

by druidbros 2006-07-29 03:16AM | 0 recs
Jungle primaries and Louisiana Democrats.

What makes Louisiana very different than any other state is that until 2006, the "Jungle Primary" system used in that state. Everyone ran in the general election, then the top two went into the runoff.

This makes a huge difference in the outcome of elections. For example, had the 2000 Presidential Election had a Jungle Primary, John McCain would have been President.

In Louisiana, the system was designed by moderate white Democrats to protect moderate white Democrats. It was designed to protect the entrenched politicians from both the emerging Republican Party in the general election and the increasing power of African-Americans in the Democratic primary.

Edwin Edwards famously benefited from this when David Duke came in second in the general election. George H.W. Bush and many other national Republicans endorsed the corrupt Democrat over the Republican Klansman.

Mary Landrieu, Kathleen Blanco, and John Breaux have all benefited from this system.

For the 2006 elections, the Jungle Primary has been abolished in favor of a traditional system. This move will have more impact in Louisiana politics than any particular candidate or party could ever hope of having.

Expect the Democratic Party to become more liberal, but expect the Republicans to gain seats.

by wayward 2006-07-29 05:38AM | 0 recs
Uh oh...

Clearly this is something folks need to be paying attention to. (I hadn't been.)

No doubt Landrieu's people have been running the numbers for 2008 under the new primary system, and, if they look bad, the start of the 110th would be a natural break at which to jump ship.

So we have two potential loose Senatorial cannons to consider come January: Lieberman (I) (if Lamont wins the primary) and now Landrieu.

Bugger...

by skeptic06 2006-07-29 06:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Uh oh...

The DLC NeoDem strategy of filling the Democratic Party with Republicans was bound to blow up in our faces eventually.

Zell Miller, anyone?

by Sitkah 2006-07-29 07:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

Three things:

(1) Race still matters.   The pandora's box is open and pretending it doesn't exist won't work.  The question is whether race will continue to be the basis for prejudice, strife, and persecution - which we can do something about that.  Overall, society has definitely made historic progress from such enslavement of African-Americans and the exploitation of Native Americans.  Still, there is unresolved tension over how to handle attempts to provide remediation (e.g., affirmative action, equal opportunity, etc...) for the impact of past oppression.

(2) Democrats do need to be more flexible and not apply undo litmus tests.  It does seem that there is this posture to make Democrats = Liberal and if a Democrat strays from liberal principles then they're not a 'real' Democrat.  Looking through history, Democrats have not necessarily ever been just a liberal party.   There has been a liberal faction, but other factions also.   The theme of the Democratic Party is that it fights for the common people which may or may not include explicitly liberal principles.  Still, one thing you would look for a Democrat to do is to support other Democrats or at least not work against other Democrats (as in a general election - they have to fight for themselves in the primary).  You would also expect that a modern Democrat would at least represent the mainstream forces of moderation, tolerance, and progress in their region.

(3) In order to boost turnout of African-Americans or other targeted demographics, Democrats will need to articulate policies that are important to their daily life.  It seems that Democrats will support certain things but fail to make them campaign themes or governing priorities.  When was the last time you heard a Democratic candidate for federal office making support for improved public transportation, community policing, or neighborhood revitalization a major campaign theme?  Yet, many African-Americans live in cities where they can't afford a car and the neighborhood is impacted with crime and lack of safe and/or affordable housing.   There is this tendency among Democrats to focus on things like equal opportunity when seeking support of African-Americans, but to forget about practical things that are needed (and which actually transcend race).  

by robstephens 2006-07-29 06:55AM | 0 recs
Sure race matters

Even in blue states like Maryland where I live, the race of candidates in the Senate contest has gotten a LOT of attention. Some pundits believe that if AA turn out in large numbers in the Democratic primary that Mfume will probably win. However, these same pundits also believe that the Mfume-Steele race would be a lot tighter and Mfume could lose in November against Steele in the general election (although after Steele's horrible week, I think that assertion is very much in doubt) b/c white conservative Democrats might not show up to vote for Mfume but would vote for Cardin if he won the Democratic primary.

So race plays an important factor not only for blacks voting for white candidates but whites voting for black candidates. Are whites, specifically white Democrats willing to turn out for a black Senate candidate in a state that has a 2:1 advantage in Democratic registration?  If Mfume wins the Democratic nomination, will Mfume face a similiar situation as Mary Landrieu where he has to set up phone banking operations that beg white Dems in Montgomery county and other predominantly white areas in the state to come out to vote for him around 5 pm?

Inquiring minds like myself want to know!! I want to know if loyalty to the Democratic party is just a one way street held against African Americans, who are expected to give their vote to Democrats on Election Day with VERY LITTLE in return. Or if white Democratic voters in Maryland, despite their misgivings with Mfume, will in the end support him for the sake of the party in the same way that AAs hold back their misgivings with white candidates for the sake of the party!!

You know what? I don't think most African Americans impose a litmus test on Democratic politicians. If polls are correct, African Americans are socially conservative and much more economically liberal than current Democratic politicians. As far as I know, the only litmus test that AAs impose is just to give a damn about our concerns. Scratch that--at least just pretend to give a damn about our concerns. And not just 2 weeks before Election Day either. How about just showing up 6 months to a year before the election and asking for our vote and then following through on the perennial campaign promises that are made and then broken to the AA community? How about respecting AA not only as voters but as individuals instead of marginalizing us and our concerns?  

by ademption 2006-07-29 08:09AM | 0 recs
It cuts both ways

Here in Cook County Illinois, the party leaders decided that the County Board President must be black. The incumbent (John Stroger) has resigned due to a stroke. So they ignored the white County Board member (Forrest Claypool) who lost to the incumbent President by a razor thin margin and endorsed the Stroger's son whose only credentials are being a Chicago Alderman (i.e. yes-man to Daley) and being black. Two other black candidates were considered but the Party made very clear that whites need not apply.

by antiHyde 2006-07-29 03:41PM | 0 recs
Re: It cuts both ways

Sorry, that should have been "lost the primary to"

by antiHyde 2006-07-29 03:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Sure race matters

Inquiring minds like myself want to know!! I want to know if loyalty to the Democratic party is just a one way street held against African Americans

yeah, I want to know as well. There's another aspect to this -- how about the old 'Mfume's too liberal'? Well, after the infinite number of 'big tent' lectures, I want to see conservative dems turn out for the more liberal candidate should Mfume be the Democratic primary winner.

by dblhelix 2006-07-29 07:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Does Race Still Matter?

Imagine you are an AA voter in LA watching the infamous interview of Landrieu by Anderson Cooper in the wake of Katrina.  Where he finally had to stop her robotic performance and ask her for some compassion towards the victims in NO.

Tell me that would not be seared into your consciousness.

Now that NO has been depopulated, do you seriously think anybody's going to do anything for your vote in the future?

by Taylor26 2006-07-29 03:12PM | 0 recs
Is Landrieu a Democrat?

For those who haven't seen the "infamous" interview.... Landrieu covers for, and thanks Bush, for his response to Katrina.

by Sitkah 2006-07-29 05:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Landrieu a Democrat?

In fairness, I think Landrieu is running scared.  At the time, it seemed that she felt like she had to get down on her knees to try to get federal money for disaster recovery.

Still, it was telling that a CNN reporter apparently had to wake her up to the enormity of the catastrophe.  The next day she's in a helicopter with reporters and "crying" because there's only a single crane doing levee repair (after they moved away all the machinery they had there for the Bush photo-op).  She had to learn in a fucking TV interview that maybe she should show some moral outrage?

I for one don't have a litmus test for Democrats, but I do have a competency test.  Although I don't agree with all of Harry Reid's politics, he has earned my trust on the competency scale.  I would not say the same thing for politicians like Feinstein, Rockefeller, Baucus, Landrieu or, yes, Lieberman.  I'm not looking at legislative accomplishments, I'm looking very cynically at their ability to bring the fight to the Republicans.

I think Landrieu is incompetent.  I think she knows it and so she's running scared, maybe into the arms of the GOP.

by Taylor26 2006-07-30 04:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Is Landrieu a Democrat?

......

by Sitkah 2006-08-07 12:14AM | 0 recs

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