9 reads
Leave a comment
HRC 2018 Los Angeles Gala

U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters. (Photo by Dan Steinberg/Invision for Human Rights Campaign/AP Images)

There is a continued stream of analysis and commentary on what exactly happened in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District (PA-18). How did a staunchly red Congressional district suddenly spring back to, somewhat safely, a shade of purple? The special election held to replace disgraced former Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), the race became something of a major bellwether to determine what could happen this November in a number of other races.

It is noteworthy that PA-18 is a place where Trump won by 20 points in 2016 and Mitt Romney won by 17 points. And it’s also worth noting there have been 8 special Congressional and Senate elections since April 2017 — 7 were Congressional districts, one was a Senate seat. This latest special election is the first Democratic flip of a heavily Republican Congressional district, and in the aftermath of the stunning upset Senate race in Alabama.

However, what’s of greater significance in PA-18 are the demographics. Lamb was a near perfect candidate for Democrats because Lamb was a White male candidate with center-right political appeal in an almost all-White district. According to the Tribune‘s analysis of PA-18 Census data, the Pittsburgh suburb encompassing most of Allegheny County is more than 93 percent White, and barely 2.5 percent Black.

It’s not just a question of how much voters are turned off by Donald Trump in 2018, or how much of an enthusiasm gap Democrats can maintain over Republicans heading into November. There are concerns that how dominant a White population is in a district in relation to its Black and Brown composition could determine whether a Republican seat stays that way in 2018.

As was the case in states during the 2016 GOP presidential primary and also must-win states for the 2016 general election, the more diverse a state or district is can dictate if a Democratic Party candidate’s campaign goes sideways. In the case of predominantly White Congressional districts (or “PWCDs for short”) with noticeable Black and Brown diversity of 10 percent or more, a White Democrat may find themselves messaging on issues important to Black or Brown voting blocs. Should that Democrat face a tough primary, a battle for progressive votes may ensue that forces the candidate to become that much more public on racially-charged issues like, for example, immigration reform, criminal justice disparities or police violence.

This could be problematic in a time of deep racial polarization as prominent as the political or ideological. A January YouGov/Economist poll, for example, showed a great disconnect between Blacks and Whites on the question of race relations: overall, 65 percent of Americans view racial relations as “bad.” But, only 45 percent of Whites view it that way now under the Trump presidency versus 56 percent of Whites who felt that way under President Obama. In addition, nearly 20 percent of Whites view the nation as a “worse place to live” with diversity, including 35 percent of Trump voters and 34 percent of Republicans.

 

Those numbers are also higher in the South and Midwest compared to the Northeast and West.

Clues on how a Democratic candidate may perform in a Republican-held district hinge greatly on the mood of predominant White voters in a district with a sizable “swing vote” minority population of color.

It also may depend on the degree of race relations in that district.

“Increased racial polarization poses a challenge by shaping the types of candidates with a shot at winning and the policy priorities they pursue,” said Khalilah Brown-Dean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University. “Running on the platform of massive criminal justice reform in a racially homogenous district like PA-18 would be career ending.”

“Racial polarization and White flight produce moderate, conservative leaning Democrats who have to weigh prospects of winning against constituent demand,” adds Brown-Dean.

Yet, Collective PAC’s Quentin James points to plenty of examples where many White voters looked beyond the race or racial focus of the candidate. “Look at Tim Scott [Black Republican Senator in South Carolina] for example. Or Look at Obama [in 2008 and 2012]. White voters came out and voted for Obama in rural areas. But in 2016 they came out and voted for Trump. So, Democrats can compete in rural areas. It’s more so about getting candidates that connect to those rural areas and issues.”

After PA-18, Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman hurriedly changed ratings on Congressional districts where Trump won by less than 20 points. “Ohio’s 12th CD is a lot like Pennsylvania’s 18th CD — it combines well-educated suburbs with a lot of old union bastions — except it’s even less Republican,” Wasserman said. “Trump won Ohio’s 12th CD by just 11 points, and Democrats may have a promising candidate there.”

But OH-12, another PWCD, could be better for Dems because it’s less diverse, with just over 4 percent of the population being Black. Yet, in the special 2017 election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District (GA-6), in which another young rising star Democrat Jon Osoff was supposed to win, the district was over 15 percent Black in composition. It also covered parts of heavy metropolitan and heavily Black Atlanta (which was gearing up for a major mayoral battle between a White woman independent and a Black female Democrat in a city grappling with gentrification issues). While Osoff’s residency issue certainly gave winner Karen Handel (R-Ga.) an edge, it didn’t go unnoticed by observers that Osoff was handicapped by a crowded and exhausting primary that forced him to message more openly on progressive issues in a bid to attract Black voters.

“White voters in that district were listening and Democrats didn’t shift in the heat of that,” said one operative intimately familiar with the GA-6 campaign speaking on background. “Many White Republicans and White independents get resentful if they feel a race has too much talk about race in it.”

Emory University’s Andra Gillespie tells the Tribune believes that party identification is racially polarized, with Republicans being disproportionately white and Democrats being disproportionately of color. “But not all Whites are Republicans, and not all majority White districts are Republican.”

“In a district like PA-18, it wouldn’t be wise to run an extremely liberal candidate. Thus, it makes sense for the Democrats to run the comparatively more conservative candidate. The lesson Democrats should take from this is to choose candidates who fit the ideology of the district.”

For Gillespie, diversity plays a critical — and sometimes inadvertent role — in districts with an array of voting blocs based on race, ideology and party. “Imagine you have a diverse district comprised of a small majority of White Republicans and a large minority of liberal, Black Democrats. If the Republicans always vote as a bloc, those Black Democrats will probably never elect the candidate of their choice.”

What was clear in PA-18 is that Republicans, feeling a loss on the horizon, seemed to push for subtle racialized messaging as Trump stumped through the district days before the election. The president, during a rally, spent a heavy amount of time on divisive topics such as immigration and the death penalty for drug dealers, while attacking influential Black women like Oprah Winfrey and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif). Even though the GOP candidate Rick Saccone lost, experts wonder aloud if that kind of messaging made the race even tighter. Many observers suggest that if economy and tax reform messaging fail to deliver on voter enthusiasm, Republican strategists will frantically default to wedge cultural and race issues.

Another concern is whether Lamb’s win may suddenly encourage Democrats to re-focus heavily on “white working class” or blue-collar voters at the expense of outreach for much more reliable Black voters.

Desiree Peterkin Bell, a longtime Philadelphia-based political strategist and principal of DPBell and Associates feels that’s a big worry. She points to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the lead fundraising arm for House Democrats, ignoring strong primary showings from Black women Congressional candidates like Lauren Underwood in Illinois’ 14th district. “Recently, they had to be reminded that there were viable Black women candidates in these districts,” Peterkin Bell told the Tribune during a broadcast of WURD’s “Reality Check.”

Peterkin Bell and others fear that could translate into less support for candidates of color, particularly strong Black and Brown candidates competing in competitive statewide and Congressional races.

“We’re definitely watching to see what the party does after the PA-18 victory,” adds Collective PAC’s James. “What we’re trying to convey to the party is that historically, we’ve been the most loyal voting bloc and it is high time they put up resources to support our candidates.”

“Black folks are tired of waiting our turn and that awareness will turn into depressed turnout in 2018 and decreased party membership long term.”

Advocacy group The Arena recently released a report entitled “Underfunded: A Report Release and Discussion on the Inequitable Funding & Institutional Support of Congressional Candidates of Color” which highlighted deep disparities in support between white candidates and Black/Brown candidates. Looking at 2016 cycle data, The Arena confirmed what was widely known: Latinx and Black women incumbents raised, on average, only three quarters of what white male candidates were raising.

“Candidates of color raise significantly less than White candidates,” said the report. “In 2016, of the 272 women candidates running for the House, just 60, or 10 percent of all candidates we identified, were women of color. Of the 1,157 men running for office, 133, or 21 percent of all candidates, were men of color.”

Still, Public Integrity’s Lateisha Beachum doesn’t envision Democrats pushing Black voters “to the back” this year. “Even with PA-18, they can’t afford to focus on one group while neglecting the other,” Beachum said. “In races to come, whether that’s South Carolina, Ohio or Georgia, it would be unwise for Democrats not to invest in Black voter engagement, especially since their votes have been critical in places like Virginia and Alabama.”

voted for Trump. So, Democrats can compete in rural areas. It’s more so about getting candidates that connect to those rural areas and issues.”

After PA-18, Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman hurriedly changed ratings on Congressional districts where Trump won by less than 20 points. “Ohio’s 12th CD is a lot like Pennsylvania’s 18th CD — it combines well-educated suburbs with a lot of old union bastions — except it’s even less Republican,” Wasserman said. “Trump won Ohio’s 12th CD by just 11 points, and Democrats may have a promising candidate there.”

But OH-12, another PWCD, could be better for Dems because it’s less diverse, with just over 4 percent of the population being Black. Yet, in the special 2017 election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District (GA-6), in which another young rising star Democrat Jon Osoff was supposed to win, the district was over 15 percent Black in composition. It also covered parts of heavy metropolitan and heavily Black Atlanta (which was gearing up for a major mayoral battle between a white woman independent and a Black female Democrat in a city grappling with gentrification issues). While Osoff’s residency issue certainly gave winner Karen Handel (R-Ga.) an edge, it didn’t go unnoticed by observers that Osoff was handicapped by a crowded and exhausting primary that forced him to message more openly on progressive issues in a bid to attract Black voters.

“White voters in that district were listening and Democrats didn’t shift in the heat of that,” said one operative intimately familiar with the GA-6 campaign speaking on background. “Many white Republicans and white independents get resentful if they feel a race has too much talk about race in it.”

Emory University’s Andra Gillespie tells the Tribune believes that party identification is racially polarized, with Republicans being disproportionately white and Democrats being disproportionately of color. “But not all whites are Republicans, and not all majority white districts are Republican.”

“In a district like PA-18, it wouldn’t be wise to run an extremely liberal candidate. Thus, it makes sense for the Democrats to run the comparatively more conservative candidate. The lesson Democrats should take from this is to choose candidates who fit the ideology of the district.”

For Gillespie, diversity plays a critical — and sometimes inadvertent role — in districts with an array of voting blocs based on race, ideology and party. “Imagine you have a diverse district comprised of a small majority of white Republicans and a large minority of liberal, Black Democrats. If the Republicans always vote as a bloc, those Black Democrats will probably never elect the candidate of their choice.”

What was clear in PA-18 is that Republicans, feeling a loss on the horizon, seemed to push for subtle racialized messaging as Trump stumped through the district days before the election. The president, during a rally, spent a heavy amount of time on divisive topics such as immigration and the death penalty for drug dealers, while attacking influential Black women like Oprah Winfrey and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif). Even though the GOP candidate Rick Saccone lost, experts wonder aloud if that kind of messaging made the race even tighter. Many observers suggest that if economy and tax reform messaging fail to deliver on voter enthusiasm, Republican strategists will frantically default to wedge cultural and race issues.

Another concern is whether Lamb’s win may suddenly encourage Democrats to re-focus heavily on “white working class” or blue-collar voters at the expense of outreach for much more reliable Black voters.

Desiree Peterkin Bell, a longtime Philadelphia-based political strategist and principal of DPBell and Associates feels that’s a big worry. She points to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the lead fundraising arm for House Democrats, ignoring strong primary showings from Black women Congressional candidates like Lauren Underwood in Illinois’ 14th district. “Recently, they had to be reminded that there were viable Black women candidates in these districts,” Peterkin Bell told the Tribune during a broadcast of WURD’s “Reality Check.”

Peterkin Bell and others fear that could translate into less support for candidates of color, particularly strong Black and Brown candidates competing in competitive statewide and Congressional races.

“We’re definitely watching to see what the party does after the PA-18 victory,” adds Collective PAC’s James. “What we’re trying to convey to the party is that historically, we’ve been the most loyal voting bloc and it is high time they put up resources to support our candidates.”

“Black folks are tired of waiting our turn and that awareness will turn into depressed turnout in 2018 and decreased party membership long term.”

Advocacy group The Arena recently released a report entitled “Underfunded: A Report Release and Discussion on the Inequitable Funding & Institutional Support of Congressional Candidates of Color” which highlighted deep disparities in support between white candidates and Black/Brown candidates. Looking at 2016 cycle data, The Arena confirmed what was widely known: Latinx and Black women incumbents raised, on average, only three quarters of what white male candidates were raising.

“Candidates of color raise significantly less than White candidates,” said the report. “In 2016, of the 272 women candidates running for the House, just 60, or 10 percent of all candidates we identified, were women of color. Of the 1,157 men running for office, 133, or 21 percent of all candidates, were men of color.”

Still, Public Integrity’s Lateisha Beachum doesn’t envision Democrats pushing Black voters “to the back” this year. “Even with PA-18, they can’t afford to focus on one group while neglecting the other,” Beachum said. “In races to come, whether that’s South Carolina, Ohio or Georgia, it would be unwise for Democrats not to invest in Black voter engagement, especially since their votes have been critical in places like Virginia and Alabama.”

 

http://www.phillytrib.com/news/democrats-might-depend-on-racial-demographics-to-win-midterms/article_9767438d-efe1-5d40-8651-d78eeea3d6e1.html

Also On New Pittsburgh Courier:
Red Carpet Rundown: 2016 Oscars
17 photos
comments – add yours
×