Democrats say black turnout key to North Carolina Senate contest

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Friday announced that they’ll travel by bus to North Carolina and other states as part of a new drive to get African Americans out to vote in the Nov. 4 election.

It kicks off this weekend with a “Freedom Sunday.”

The CBC members plans to reach out to 3,000 churches around the country Sunday and on subsequent weekends during the campaign, urging pastors to talk to their congregations about the importance of voting and help members learn how to register.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched an ad on Thursday that’s playing on black radio stations. It depicts a conversation between two women who complain that Hagan’s Republican opponent, Thom Tillis, cut funds for education, resulting in bigger class sizes and not enough textbooks for children to take home. Tillis is the speaker of the state House of Representatives.

The ad ends with one of the women saying that when early voting starts in October, “I’m going to vote for Democrats and our friend Kay Hagan.”

Orlando Watson, communications director for black media at the Republican National Committee, said Democrats were “finally getting around to spending money to reach black voters, but running last-minute radio ads won’t reverse the harm the administration’s policies have done to black Americans.” He said that Republicans policies would lead to more jobs and school choice.

Republicans also were working with church leaders, as well as members of black chambers of commerce, historically black colleges and universities the Urban League and others, Watson said. The GOP strategy was “to build and earn trust and then mobilize people to go and vote for Republicans,” he said.

“We are under no illusions, however, that we are going to get 90 percent of the black vote overnight, but just in the past year alone we’ve opened doors and created new dialogues with people we haven’t necessarily spoken to or reached out to in the past,” Watson said. “There are a lot of possibilities when you build relationships like that.”

African Americans in North Carolina have supported Democrats by a wide margin in recent elections. The Democrats’ plan is for nonpartisan discussions in churches and then opportunities for people to meet after church services with lawmakers and other Democrats.

In Raleigh, Dr. Dumas Alexander Harshaw Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church, said he planned to speak about voting rights on Sept. 28, but that his church constantly stresses the importance of voting. He said First Baptist Church provided guidelines on how to register to vote and when to vote, and that volunteers helped with voter registration after the Sunday services.

“The African American vote is crucial for Democratic successes all across the country,” said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, vice chair of voter registration and participation for the Democratic National Committee. She said the DNC targeted eight Senate races, including North Carolina, where “turnout will be key for Democrats retaining control of the Senate.”

Speaking at a press conference Friday with CBC members in Washington, Brazile said Democrats would talk to voters about their support for raising the minimum wage, curtailing gun violence, making education more affordable and protecting voting rights.

Lawmakers also will tell voters that if Democrats lose control of the Senate, an impeachment of President Barack Obama by the House of Representatives would be likely, said Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, the CBC chair.

“They will try to make our president an illegitimate president. That’s what this is all about,” she said.

The plan was to identify voters who did not cast ballots in the last midterm election, in 2010, but voted in the presidential election of 2012, Brazile said. “We know that they’re key to our success,” she said.

In North Carolina, African Americans are 15 percent of the population. Just a 1 percent additional turnout “can make a difference for Kay Hagan,” Brazile said.

She said the focus would be on the Triangle and other places, including the eastern side of the state, where the Democratic Party in the past typically hasn’t targeted voters.

“Freedom Sunday, Sept. 21, is going to be a day in which this whole country becomes concerned about the power of the vote and we are not going to back up or slow down on our efforts to maximize the voter turnout of African Americans and other people of color,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., a member of the caucus and a Methodist minister.

Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the assistant Democratic leader in the House, said he had been invited to speak in North Carolina and other states.

“I’m hopeful that we can instill in the voters’ minds that it is just as important to have a Congress and city councils, county commissions and school boards addressing their issues as it is to have a president that may be sensitive to those issues sitting in the White House,” Clyburn said.

The Democratic National Committee is funding the CBC voter drive. In addition to North Carolina, it focuses on Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas and Michigan.