Democrats believe this month’s special election in Alabama has shown them the road map to victory in the deep-red South: black women.
A whopping 98 percent of black women, who made up 17 percent of voters in the special Senate election, backed Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney known for prosecuting members of the KKK. Black men accounted for 11 percent of the vote, and 93 percent of them backed Mr. Jones, exit polls showed.
The numbers caught the eye of Democratic strategists, who said finding ways to replicate that turnout in other states could produce more surprise victories.
“Black progressive voters have been overlooked and left behind by big national organizations and funders with resources that could help propel the South toward a progressive future,” said Jessica Carter, organizing manager of Democracy for America.
“Perceived abandonment of Southern black voters by alleged allies has forced action in a way this country has never seen,” Ms. Carter said. “We witnessed black women show up in droves to secure the election of Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate, continuing to erase the norm of racism and white supremacy from southern politics.”
With President Trump in the White House, liberal activists say the time is particularly ripe for minority voters to flex their political muscle — and for black candidates to run for office.
Ms. Carter, a Mississippi native, highlighted the recent elections of Chokwe Lumumba, the new mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, and LaToya Cantrell as the first black woman mayor of New Orleans. She said future faces include Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams — who are running for the Democratic gubernatorial nominations in Florida and Georgia, respectively.
Jaime Harrison, former chairman of the South Carolina Democrats, points to the recent election of Randall Woodfin in the Birmingham, Alabama, mayoral race. The 36-year-old defeated William Bell, a fellow Democrat with deep political roots.
Mr. Harrison, who now serves as associate chair of the Democratic National Committee, said he’s long argued that the black community is key to getting the party back to its winning ways in the South.
“I think black candidates have been overlooked generally,” Mr. Harrison said. “I think when I first moved back to South Carolina they said a black person could not be chair, and be successful, or a black person couldn’t be run statewide, and it is because people were still caught in preconceived ideas they had, and I think that is definitely changing.”
Republicans, though, said Democrats are reading too much into the Alabama race.
“I definitely think it is wishful thinking,” said Jay Williams, a Georgia-based GOP strategist.
Mr. Williams said black voters comprised about 30 percent of the electorate in Alabama when President Obama was on the ballot, and turned out in similar fashion in the special election. The race, instead, turned on white voters fleeing the controversial Republican candidate, Roy Moore.
“I think the bigger story is white suburban voters (likely women) didn’t show up in this election,” Mr. Stewart said. “Having the most incendiary person on the ballot isn’t a winning strategy, and if [Republicans] want to stay in charge, we have to understand that. If we can lose Alabama, we can lose anywhere.”
RNC spokesman Rick Gorka said Republicans are well-positioned to maintain their hold on the South.
“The RNC has the resources and staff already deployed in nearly half the states to compete in races nationwide due to Chairwoman McDaniel’s record-breaking fundraising,” Mr. Gorka said. “Meanwhile, Tom Perez and Democrats could not field a nationwide effort without winning the lottery.”
As for the Alabama results, different parts of the Democratic coalition read different messages out of the surprise victory.
Pro-choice Democrats said Mr. Jones proved candidates can avoid a pro-life message and still win. NARAL Pro-Choice America even issued a memo after the election saying Mr. Jones’ key to winning black women was his rejection of pro-life stances.
Pro-life activists, though, said Mr. Jones might have actually done even better than his 1.5 percentage point victory if he’d used a pro-life message.
“I think that Democrats can breathe a sigh of relief if they can get the Republicans always to nominate someone who is credibly accused of pedophilia. In some respect, if they can do that, they can win,” said Jane Robbins, a senior fellow with the American Principles Project, a conservative group. “I think very definitely this is a one-off election.”
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