African American activists have a message for Democrats: If you want to win back the White House, strongly consider a black person on the ticket.
On their list are a growing roster of black politicians, notably Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., former Attorney General Eric Holder and Deval Patrick, former governor of Massachusetts.
Turnout among African Americans in the 2016 presidential election was the smallest in 20 years. It’s a big concern as the NAACP holds its annual convention this week in Baltimore, its first major gathering since the election.
Hilary Shelton, head of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, said “It could be difficult” for Democrats in the future without an African American on the ticket.
But he added that the black community is “very sophisticated” politically, and having an African American is not essential if white candidates “are speaking our language, which means that they’re addressing our concerns, they’re going to get our support.”
Several in the rank and file felt differently.
Yvette Stone longs for the days when Barack Obama occupied the White House. She wants African American voters shouldn’t settle for anything less than a Democratic ticket with a black candidate in 2020.
“We have to represent what we want. We have to represent who we are,” Stone, a Huntington, N.Y. convention delegate. “Everyone always comes for our vote, and what do we get in return?”
No Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 has won a majority of the white vote. While some Democrats – Joe Biden and Bill Clinton among them – argue for a renewed party effort to lure back white working class voters, most party leaders agree African Americans and Hispanic Americans now form the core of the Democratic coalition.
The challenge is getting them motivated. Turnout among these groups is crucial, and after reaching a record high of 66.6 percent in 2012, black turnout tumbled to 59.6 percent last year, according to Pew Research Center data.
Hispanic voter turnout was steady at 47.6 percent in 2016, roughly the same as four years earlier. But the figure was below what Democrats had hoped, as the Latino vote continues to grow. Latinos voted 66 to 28 percent for Clinton, network exit polls found
Blacks compromised 12 percent of the voting electorate last year, and Latinos 11 percent. While they went overwhelmingly for Democrat Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump, it wasn’t enough. Trump won the white vote, 57 to 37 percent, according to exit polls.
Stoking turnout in 2008 and 2012 was clearly President Barack Obama, the first African American on a major presidential party ticket. That’s why, said NAACP convention-goers, a black candidate is sorely needed again.
“We absolutely need a person of color on every single ticket for every single position in every county district, even the White House,” said Jennifer Jordan, a Huntington, N.Y. delegate.
She argued that African American voters shouldn’t settle for anything less than a Democratic ticket with a black candidate on it in 2020.
Bruce Morgan, 64, president of a New Brunswick, N.J., NAACP branch, thought Harris would be “a very capable candidate” but quickly deed that “she’s too new.” He’s like to see her make a presidential run in 2024 or 2028.
“To navigate D.C., you really have to be experienced to know who to go to and how to approach it,” added Morgan, who reluctantly voted for Clinton in 2016.
Harris, regarded as a potentially strong 2020 presidential hopeful, spoke at the convention Monday. She touted a bill she co-sponsored with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to change the practice of keeping those awaiting trial to remain in jail until they can come up with bail money.
Some at the convention did offer a more nuanced view of Democratic presidential prospects, saying that while having an African American on the ticket could be beneficial to Democrats, it isn’t necessarily a must for the party to regain the White House.
NAACP Interim President and CEO Derrick Johnson noted that his organization is nonpartisan and said that African American voters largely vote their interests, not color.
James Jones, 81, from Buckingham County, Virginia, said it won’t matter if there’s an African American on the Democratic ticket in 2020. But it wouldn’t hurt, either.
“If there is a black person (on the ticket), it will make black voters go to the polls,” said Jones, who voted for Clinton. “If the Democratic Party supports Democrats better than they did in the last election, we have a great chance of winning.”
Gary Leavell, 71, former president of the Jeffersonville Clark County NAACP branch in Indiana, said “while it is desirable” to have an African American on the Democratic ticket, “it is not essential.”
“We’ve shown through the presidency of Barack Obama that we are more than able to perform at that level,” he said. “The question is finding someone who has the capability, and someone who can draw not only African Americans but a greater society.”