By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Even with overwhelming support from Black voters, Democrats still lost control of the United States Senate in the midterm elections and President Barack Obama will have to compromise with the GOP-controlled Congress in order to get anything done in his last two years.
“First let’s put it in context, and this is not an excuse, the Democrats got their a—- whipped, but it was predictable,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic strategist, pollster and president of Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies, a polling firm that works with the Democratic National Committee.
Belcher, an African American, said that Republicans had both history and geography on their side. Many of the key races were run in the heart of Republican territory, through the heart of the South. Belcher added that the midterm electorate also tends to be older and less diverse, voters that tend not to be very favorable towards Democrats.
“There was a lot of conversation going into this election about how wildly unpopular the president is and that was the narrative that the Republicans ran with and the media actually helped them run with it,” said Belcher.
On Election Day, roughly 40 percent of Americans approved of the job the president was doing, according to a recent Gallup poll. In Iowa, Kansas and Arkansas, where Democratic candidates were soundly defeated, the president’s approval rating was below 40 percent.
“If the president’s job approval was 51, 52, 53 percent, that would mean absolutely nothing in Kentucky or a lot of these solidly red states where you’re not going to see a lot of enthusiasm for a Democratic candidate,” said Belcher.
Belcher suggested that the Democrats have a White voter problem.
“Democrats haven’t won White voters since [President Lyndon Johnson] signed the civil rights legislation, said Belcher. “You would think that because we’re post-racial now, we’d been winning more White voters, but the truth of the matter is we’re winning less.”
Minority voting, as a proportion of the electorate, actually increased during the 2014 midterm elections compared to 2010 midterms, Belcher said. Those gains were driven largely by Black voter turnout.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project, a group that provides public opinion surveys on Latino views on social economic and cultural issues, Hispanics accounted for 8 percent of midterm voters, the same share they garnered in 2006 and 2010. The share of Black voters has increased steadily from 10 percent in 2006 to 11 percent in 2010 and 12 percent in 2014.
Meanwhile the share of White voters in the electorate continues to decline, down from 79 percent in 2006 to 75 percent in 2014.
The Pew Research Center found that 89 percent of Black voters supported Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, Whites voted for Republican candidates 60 percent of the time.
“Democrats really pushed women’s equity issues, but [President Obama] is scary and when you tell me you’re a ‘Clinton Democrat’ and you’re parsing it up like that, we Southerners know what that means,” said Belcher. “As much as they tried to run from it, that’s what they couldn’t escape.”
Many Democratic candidates chose to run from President Obama’s record on economic recovery, positive labor market growth, and the Affordable Care Act that has provided millions of Americans with health insurance who were previously not covered. President Obama also kept his promise to bring American troops home and end decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Should Democrats have let President Obama out on the campaign trail more? Absolutely, they should have,” said Belcher. “He had something to run on.”
Dianne Pinderhughes, a political science professor at the University Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., said that there’s still some portion of the population that has a great deal of difficulty dealing with the fact that there is an African American president.
“It adds stigma to any action that he takes,” said Pinderhughes. “People can’t accept the fact that anything that he’s done has anything good associated with it.”
They can’t process information, added Pinderhughes, because race blinds them.
“The blame for what happened during the midterms cannot be laid at the feet of minority voters,” said Belcher.
Andra Gillespie agreed.
Gillespie, the interim chair of the Department of African American Studies at Emory University, Atlanta, Ga., and co-author of a report on Black voter turnout for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonpartisan think tank focused on racial equity, said that there were a few places where the Black voter turnout as a share of the overall electorate either declined or stayed the same.
“But in many places,” Gillespie said, “the Black share of the electorate increased and the White share of the electorate decreased. Democrats still lost and they didn’t lose because Blacks didn’t turn out and vote for them.”
Gillespie added: “It’s just that, numerically speaking, it takes more than Black votes for Democrats to be able to win.”
Lorenzo Morris, a political science professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., said that the midterm elections ushered in a dramatic change in the distribution of power on Capitol Hill.
“But it’s not a dramatic change of what they will do on Capitol Hill, which is probably very little,” said Morris.
Gillespie said that President Obama would have to compromise now, because bills that once passed the House of Representatives and stalled in the Senate will get through Congress and eventually land on his desk.
Pinderhughes said that the president is going to have to do a lot of strategic planning in order to figure out how to get things through Congress. That includes his nomination of United States Attorney Loretta Lynch of the Eastern District of New York to replace Attorney General Eric Holder. If confirmed, Lynch would become the first Black woman to lead the Justice Department.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is the presumptive majority leader of the Senate in the next term, said that Lynch’s nomination hearings should begin in 2015 with the new Congress.
As the Democrats gear up for the 2016 elections, Mary Frances Berry, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission under President Bill Clinton, said that the voter suppression efforts are not enough to persuade Blacks and other minorities to turn out and vote for Democratic candidates anymore.
“It’s not going to be enough for Hillary run and say, ‘All the Black people should vote for me, because I’m a Democrat and Obama’s not on the ticket now, so you should vote for me,” said Berry. “I don’t think it’s going to be enough.”
Berry said that the Democrats need to act earlier and more aggressively to gain the support of young Black voters, possibly targeting the group with a jobs program. The Labor Department can set up job training and recruitment programs using discretionary funds and start pilot programs that target high unemployment areas, Berry explained.
“Then [President Obama] could ask Congress for an expanded program and people would be able to talk about what the party is doing,” said Berry.
Wade Henderson, chairman and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 civil and human rights groups, said that the interests that Blacks espouse are not partisan interests, they are national interests.
“We want better schools and opportunities that education provides, we want an economy that is responsive to the interests and needs of our people and we want opportunities for growth and development that can only occur, if we are fully enrolled in the economy of the day,” said Henderson.
He added: “We’ve got to do our best to make sure that, whoever is in power, that we are signaling that we are here to deal. And that’s just the way it is.”