ATLANTA (AP) — Some black political leaders think Democratic candidates who distanced themselves from President Barack Obama sapped the enthusiasm of African-Americans in states where they anchor the party’s base.
They point to Senate races in North Carolina, where Kay Hagan was denied a second term, and Georgia, where Michelle Nunn failed to capture an open seat, and Louisiana, where Mary Landrieu is in a runoff next month for a fourth term.
“The president is still a great driver of African-American turnout,” said North Carolina state Rep. Rodney Moore. “Kay Hagan supported him during her six-year tenure, so it seems disrespectful that she would not even defend the good things that have happened during his administration.”
Democrats suffered heavy losses in the mid-term elections, ceding Senate control to the Republicans and surrendering more seats in the already Republican-majority House of Representatives as Republicans ran against an unpopular President Barack Obama. Republicans picked up governor’s offices in a number of Democratic-leaning states like Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois and strengthened their grip on state legislatures
It’s not clear that a larger turnout among blacks in North Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana would have made a difference. Obama lost all three states in the 2012 presidential election, and support for Democrats among African-Americans was roughly the same as in 2008, when Hagan and Landrieu were elected.
Among whites, 73 percent in Louisiana, 67 percent in Georgia and 57 percent in North Carolina strongly disapproved of Obama.
Sixty-four percent of white North Carolina voters said Hagan agreed with Obama too often on the issues and 80 percent of Louisiana white voters said Landrieu did. That overall level of unpopularity means any potential benefit among blacks could have been offset by a candidate’s closer connection to the president.
Hagan lost to Republican Thom Tillis by about 48,000 votes, or 1.7 percent. She focused on trying to brand Tillis, the North Carolina state House speaker, as an extremist. She did not apologize for supporting the Affordable Care Act — Obama’s signature health care act — but avoided talking about it. In January, she skipped an Obama speech at North Carolina State University, though she did greet him at the airport when he visited in August.
Linda Wilkins-Daniels, an officer in the state Democratic Party’s black caucus, said Democratic candidates missed an opportunity to use Obama to tell a success story and exploit differences with Republicans on issues such as minimum wage, financial regulation, student loans and health care.
Increasing black turnout alone would not have translated into victories in Georgia and Louisiana, given the Republican margins among whites: 3 of 4 whites voted against Nunn, while more than 4 of 5 voted against Landrieu. But those numbers make it more obvious that the Democrats’ strategy was flawed, said Tharon Johnson, who helped run turnout operations for Obama’s presidential campaigns.
“The amount of resources that was spent on this race to recruit white voters was far more than the resources that were spent to expand the electorate with African-American, Latino and Asian base supporters,” Johnson said.
In Louisiana, where Landrieu faces Republican Bill Cassidy in a Dec. 6 runoff, the senator made headlines in the campaign’s closing days when she said Obama’s race factors into his poor standing in Louisiana. She also has criticized Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal for refusing to expand Medicaid under the health overhaul.
But her television ads still emphasize her seniority in the Senate and hit Cassidy for voting to curtail Social Security and Medicare.
“She needs to remember quickly that her fortunes always rise and fall with African-Americans,” said state Sen. J.P. Morrell of New Orleans.
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