Throughout the year I have written about the opportunity Democrats have to successfully execute midterm campaigns. In my last piece "Will Democrats win big next year or go the way of Will Rogers?", I asked if Democrats would take advantage of America's need for strong leadership or rely on acrimony towards Trump to engage voters (which many argue was the party's demise in the 2016 election). Another question that Democrats need to ask themselves is will the party blow this opportunity by taking black voters for granted -- again?
It’s an important question that should not be taken lightly. Heavy black voter turnout ensured victory in the recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey and in numerous local races across the country. Next month’s U.S. Senate race in Alabama will also hinge on black voter enthusiasm.
For a political party with a record of passing strong civil rights laws and social programs that have helped all Americans, worrying about black turnout shouldn’t be a concern. Theoretically, black voters should be more than willing to vote in 2018, given President Trump's treatment of the black community. Consider the record:
• President Trump hasn’t gone out of his way to nominate black candidates for administrative or judicial appointments.
• Trump continues to encourage society’s racist elements with dog-whistle politics and divisive tweets. Who can forget his “both-sides” comments following the alt-right protests in Charlottesville? Comments that caused Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck, to resign from Trump's manufacturing advisory committee.
• The president has a track record of demeaning black women: journalists April Ryan and Jemele Hill, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, and perhaps most disheartening Myeshia Johnson, widow of Sgt. LaDavid T. Johnson, one of four soldiers fatally ambushed in Niger.
• The president also routinely attacks black men involved in professional sports including Stephen Curry, Marshawn Lynch, and Colin Kaepernick. Not to mention the mothers of the NFL players who chose to kneel before games.
While frustration with Trump's race baiting may be enough to dissuade black voters from casting their votes for Republicans, it will be the job of the Democratic Party to produce candidates that can excite constituents and drive them to the polls. African Americans remain a consistent bloc of Democratic voters and to take them for granted is no option.
Florida Democrats can’t afford any political missteps. In 2018, the Sunshine State will hold key races for governor, the Florida Cabinet, and the U.S. Senate. The outcome of those elections will shape the direction of the nation’s third largest state for the foreseeable future.
In 2018, the party should champion issues that are important to black voters. In Florida for example, the restoration of felons' voting rights is a no-brainer since the state’s current restoration policies have silenced more than 20 percent of Florida’s potential African American voters.
Democrats must also find and support qualified black candidates for public office. The party should work more closely with black incumbent-candidates and members of the Congressional Black Caucus to develop voter registration drives and get out the vote efforts.
The party can also help itself by remaining steadfast in their policy of neutrality in party primaries. Black candidates should get a fair shot to campaign among Democrats without worrying about overt favoritism from the party.
Hiring recognized political consultants of color, putting paid advertising in black-owned media, and hiring a statewide team that is reflective of Florida's diversity would also improve Democrats' positioning in 2018.
Next year’s elections offer Democrats their best chance to re-establish political power, a sense of purpose and a chance to govern. 2018 could be the year, if Democrats can figure out how to reach black voters.