By Kirk Clay
The best part of my Thanksgiving weekend was sitting around the table with family debating the upcoming NCAA national championship game. I have to admit, I love talking with my brother — a lifelong Buckeye – who is always optimistic that Ohio State can go all the way. Then there’s my father – a lifelong Alabama fan – that regularly reminds everyone that “It’s unlikely for the Bucks to beat ‘Bama if they play each other.” However, in sports (as well as politics) you can never be certain of the results until after the game. That’s why they play the game.
Yes, America loves a comeback story. Watching the excitement generated by Auburn’s victory over top ranked Alabama during the last seconds of the game reminded me of Election 2014 and the possible electoral impact the “Rising Electorate” may have. I began to ask myself, “will this mid-term election be decided by last minute local issues or long-term national concerns?” Will this be a referendum on the “Do-nothing” Congress, Government Shutdown or Obamacare?
What’s remarkable is how — for reasons hard to explain – 2012 issues and dynamics are being dragged into 2014. Remember 2012 was a hyper polarized political environment where attitudes solidified quickly and “Obamacare” didn’t peel off many voters. The Democrats netted 8 seats in the House and gained a foothold in the Senate by winning 80% of the competitive Senate races. Also, they gained 170 more state legislative seats nationwide and took over 8 state legislative chambers including complete control of Colorado. In other words, everyone that hates “Obamacare” has probably already voted against it and everyone that voted for President Obama will probably still vote Democrat.
So what’s different? Consumer confidence is at a 6 year high and the GOP driven Government shutdown seems to be sticking. The Democrats didn’t have these weapons in 2012 and now the stage is set for an upsurge for President Obama’s coalition that includes progressive whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, women, youth and unions.
As the fundamentals of the mid-term elections begin to take shape, there are a few data points to consider. As listed in Gallup’s recent national survey:
- Congress has a 9% approval rating (the lowest ever)
- 59% say their disapproval is driven by perceived “Gridlock /
- Party identification for Republicans is 6 points lower than last
- The electorate still blames the GOP for the disadvantageous
“Government Shutdown” and Congressional unfavorable ratings are a record high
- Businesses added 215,000 jobs in November (capping a better-than-expected year)
Furthermore, there were fewer than 60 laws enacted this year, so this is officially the least productive Congress ever. In other words, the Republicans will not have a record of “fixing things” to run on while the Democrats will tout saving the economy from default and fighting to keep the Government open. Will these numbers drive voters to throw the bums out and flip the House? No one knows for sure but these issues and others could be the catalyst.
For Example, take Colorado’s CD-6 where the district is 20% Latino, 9% African American, 5% Asian and there are over 60,000 youth between the ages of 18-25. The President won this district with 54% (182,464) of the vote and GOP Congressman Mike Coffman scraped by with only 48% (150,587) of the vote. That’s a difference of 31,877 more votes for Democrats.
Remember Coffman won by 7,001 votes in 2012, a Presidential election year. This is about 2% of turnout but we expect him to garner 3-5% more votes in a mid-term election. However, there were over 12,000 ballots cast that did not choose a Congressional candidate between Adams and Arapahoe counties (both counties are favorable towards Democrats). Lastly, Colorado recently passed a law requiring all registered voters to receive a ballot in the mail and allowing Election Day registration. These factors will increase midterm turnout for progressives.
Will these dynamics play out in the 17 Congressional districts needed to flip the House? Yes. The truth is that voters in places like Toledo care more about the price of milk, the economy and the Buckeyes –not necessarily in that order – than the healthcare website. It’s our experience that people won’t vote for politicians that ignore underlying issues or problems but they’ll vote for someone to fix them. Simply put, “nothing from nothing leaves anything and doing nothing isn’t working.” If a candidate can show the ability to take a problem head-on and fix it, they will garner a lot of respect and votes.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC
By Kirk Clay
This Campaign Was Not About “Blue State” Voter Mobilization
Pundits across the country are in full speculation mode that Chris Christie’s re-election may illuminate
the path for Republicans to recapture the White House in 2016. Having been deeply involved in New Jersey elections for the past year, we talked to our colleagues on the ground to get their take on just what the Christie win really means.
Was this the début of the GOP’s “minority outreach” program? Or was this just the latest battle in the civil war between Tea Party activists and establishment Republicans? After evaluating the results of last Tuesday’s election, it’s possible that the answer is yes.
With less than 38% turnout—a record low for New Jersey Governor races – this campaign was obviously not about “Blue State” voter mobilization. Therefore, the outcome doesn’t have a single driving factor but rather multiple interwoven themes that articulate a much more fluid set of dynamics.
To put this race in context, let’s start at the finish line. Given the enormous vote gap for Chris Christie’s win (60% – 38%), this race was clearly driven by his Super Storm Sandy response. Christie used public funds to remind voters of this “911” moment the entire campaign, giving him impenetrable political armor that prevented Senator Barbara Buono from exposing his biggest weaknesses – policies not personality.
For example, while exit polls report that “the economy” mattered most to voters and nearly half (49%) considered this in deciding how they would cast their ballot, 59% said the condition of New Jersey’s economy is “not so good / poor.” In fact, New Jersey’s unemployment rate of 8.5% has outpaced the national average since Christie took office.
It’s important to note that Christie’s personal popularity is sharply at odds with where the majority of New Jersey voters are on the issues. Note that there is a clear contrast between Christie’s conservative posture and the values of his state. For instance, his “Blue State” constituents favored a court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey (60% to 38%) yet he forcefully spoke out against it. This was never a problem for him because there was no progressive entity to hold him accountable including Senator Buono who was out raised $2.7 million to Christie’s $13.2 million. Likewise he was not held accountable for 1) his veto of legislation to raise the minimum-wage, 2) teacher pension cuts, 3) a woman’s right to choose, 4) gun control, and 5) a weak climate control stance.
Giving him a pass on these issues became self-inflected wounds for Democrats and progressives:
- 57% of the New Jersey’s women voted for Chris Christie
- 51% of Latinos and 21% of African Americans voted for the Governor, an increase over previous elections
- 49% of those who support same sex marriage voted for Chris Christie
- 46% of union households supported Chris Christie
- 32% of self-identified Democrats voted for Chris Christie
- 31% of self-described liberals supported Chris Christie
There is strong evidence that there would’ve been a different outcome if Democrats truly contested this race. Specifically, a Democrat like Cory Booker—with resources for a GOTV operation and high name recognition—would have likely defeated Christie. His candidacy would have impacted down ballot in majority People of Color (POC) cities like Atlantic – that just elected a Republican mayor.
Moving forward, how might this help Christie get through the primaries in 2016? The truth is that Citizen’s United has significantly changed the primary process. Remember in 2012, most political “experts” were scratching their heads trying to figure out when Rick Santorum would suspend his campaign. The answer came after his financial backer stopped paying for airplane tickets to primary states. It’s important to note that he agreed to step down only after delegate rich states were completely out of reach.
With states like California, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania traditionally holding late primary dates—and already leaning towards a Christie candidacy—something tells me that Christie will have plenty of money for airplane tickets to compete through May.
What should progressives start thinking about? A way to win more Voters of Color (VOC) through persuasion versus the splintering that occurred in New Jersey. This could be key — given the fact that “Operation ChristiCrats” may garner a larger pool of the Democrats’ traditional base. We may have to consolidate and expand the base including youth, white women, people of color and progressives. Looking at this from a demographic perspective — using New Jersey’s recent Governor’s race where the electorate was 15% African American, 9% Latino, and 3% Asian — voters of Color can have tremendous impact as long as they receive the “right message from a trusted messenger.”
Of course, Christie’s performance doesn’t guarantee that he will easily walk into the White House. Nevertheless, his electoral success in a “Blue State” details a path for Republicans that may become a game changer. This also indicates that, contrary to popular thought, they are working to fix their cultural blind spots. Note that it’s no accident New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez joined Christie for a pre-Election Day tour or Senator Buono was hit with a Shaq attack so close to election day.
The truth is that no one knows what will happen in the next two years, but it’s well documented that candidates like Governor Christie have the ability to create openings for their team by breaking through voting blocks and separating voters from their interests. If we neglect to invest in institutions that hold those blocks together we could be witnessing the next big electoral change.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC
By Kirk Clay
Huge Step Toward Empowering Boston’s Rising Electorate
Boston is in the middle of its first open mayoral election in twenty years, and many thought that this was the opportunity to elect the city’s first mayor of color. With the results of last week’s election, however, the top two
candidates advancing to the runoff are both white. Although this outcome was disappointing to those hoping to diversify City Hall, there is still reason to believe that a future candidate of color can prevail.
At its most simple, the candidates of color split their pool of voters, denying any of them a chance to make it into the runoff. The top two candidates, Martin Walsh and John Connolly, received 20,838 and 19,420 votes respectfully. Cumulatively, the top three candidates of color – Charlotte Golar Richie, Felix Arroyo, and John Barros – received 34,562 votes.
A closer look at past election results reveals a winning path for future mayoral candidates of color and women. The 2013 first-place finish of Ayanna Pressley, an African American woman and the first woman of color ever elected to the Boston City Council, demonstrated how unifying the voters of color is key to maximizing the impact of voters of color (VOC).
Let me explain by comparing the results of Boston’s preliminary 2013 mayoral race with Pressley’s at-large 2013 city council race. Pressley ran among a pool of 20 candidates for one of four run-off spots. She won with 17% (42,915) of the votes cast for the City Council candidates. Last week’s lead Mayoral candidates Martin Walsh and John Connolly received 18% (20,854) of the vote and 17% (19,435) of the vote respectfully. Combined that’s only 40,289 total votes, 2626 fewer votes than Pressley received in her race.
How was Pressley able to win more votes in comparison to the leading mayoral candidate—especially given the fact that Pressley competed in a larger pool of candidates? She won because she was able to consolidate her base of votes from women, people of color and progressives. Let’s look at this from a demographic perspective using Ward 18, which encompasses Hyde Park This neighborhood embodies one of the greatest VOC potentials for future Mayoral candidates of color and women.
Here some important trends that have emerged:
- This area is considered a super voter “sweet spot” – an area with a large pool of voters that consistently vote.
- Hyde Park’s African American and Latino populations grew 22% and 67% respectfully making people of color 78% of the population.
- Pressley won Ward 18 with 5490 votes.
- This year, the top 3 mayoral candidates of color Charlotte Golar Richie, Felix Arroyo, and John Barros, split the Ward 18 vote 2314, 1160, and 1039 respectively.
The splintering of the vote was also seen in neighborhoods like Hyde Park where the lack of consensus among progressive groups and voters created conflicting loyalties. Arroyo grew up in Hyde Park but found it difficult to close the vote gap without networking and unifying efforts with other candidates like John Barros.
An additional factor in this year’s race was money. For example, close to $2 million had been spent to help Walsh by September 15th and Connolly’s campaign spent more than $1.1 million by then. Charlotte Golar Richie never came close to that amount and was one of the last candidates to jump in the race. By contrast, both Walsh and Connolly had a head start while quietly campaigning before Mayor Menino announced his retirement.
Needless to say, the demographic advantage doesn’t guarantee that three strong candidates of color can run in the same election and win. However, Pressley’s citywide success points to an opportunity for investment in wards that may yield a significant return. This also means the opportunities in neighborhoods like Hyde Park have become prime openings for good candidates with commonsense messages to breakthrough. We believe that if this electorate is engaged with resources, the right message, a good candidate, and a successful voter registration campaign – we may take a huge step forward towards electing Boston’s first women or person of color mayor.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC
By Kirk Clay
U.S. House of Representatives Set To Cast The Final Vote On CIR
This is a seminal moment for America. After decades of negotiating, compromising, and peaceful protest our U.S. House of Representatives is set to cast the final vote that will decide more than just the future of 11 million undocumented immigrants. Their vote could also decide which Congressperson gets a one way ticket home. As many as 14 Republicans could lose their seats if they block a path to citizenship.
This political dynamic didn’t happen overnight. Progressive institutions started organizing for “Compassionate Comprehensive Immigration Reform” years ago. In fact, this movement was based on the premise that if population groups who historically did not participate fully in our democracy were engaged by trusted institutions, their increased civic participation and voter turnout rates would impact Congressional politics.
These organizations are now busy putting plans in place and gearing up to launch civic engagement efforts for the 2014 election cycle. If resourced properly these efforts could change the political landscape for decades and alter the political balance of power on the Hill.
How did we get here? Did obstructionists create this political environment? Yes.
Note that political demographics have trended towards Democrats for years but what’s new is unity and enthusiasm. Additionally, many voters of color (VOC) are being constantly motivated due to the dysfunctional nature of the House of Representatives. It’s reasonable to assume that there will be a sizable cluster of “passionate” voters of color who will volunteer for national and local campaigns in 2014.
In fact, most political experts assume Republicans will reuse overplayed tactics in this upcoming immigration fight. After testing and evaluating voter responses in 2012, it’s likely that “self-deportation” sympathizers will help the Democrats net at least another fourteen seats in Latino districts of influence – Congressional districts that are not necessarily Latino but have enough diversity to impact the election.
As the fundamentals of the 2014 elections begin to develop, there are a few variables to keep in mind. As listed in The Pew Research Center’s recent national survey:
- Immigration: By a margin of nearly two-to-one, Republicans say the party is not conservative enough
- Republican-leaning voters (54% to 40%) want the party’s leaders to move further to the right.
- Over 35% of GOP voters say that, in dealing with Democrats, congressional Republicans have compromised too much. While 27% say they have not compromised enough and 32% say they have handled it about right.
While Congress is viewed collectively as dysfunctional, Republicans seem to be split on the style of Congressperson they would vote for. That’s a messaging problem the Democrats will not have in 2014.
Take California’s 21st Congressional district where the demographics are 71% Latino, 4% African American, and 3% Asian. The President won this district with 54% of the vote and GOP Congressman David Valadao will have a strong challenge from a Latino Democrat next year. All it would take is one “wrong” vote and this may be his last term.
Granted it’s too early to know the full impact of CIR, but we do know that VOC civic participation rates are increasing across the all districts. Also, there is a greater awareness of the politics around Latino issues. A testament is seeing a growing number of Latino voters becoming politically active on social media.
Only time will tell what influence this vote will have, but I’m anticipating that there are many positive changes to come. As America’s rising electorate continues to grow we know that politics will never be the same.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC
By Kirk Clay
Will Voters of Color Do It Again In 2013?
The potential historic victory of Cory Booker as a nominee for the U.S. Senate is a cause for celebration. At this hopeful moment we must remember our core objective –transform voter energy into a vehicle that changes the political balance of power. This can only happen if following Election Day we unite and continue to catalyze this emerging new majority coalition.
As PAC+ begins the final stretch of this primary election, we must continue encouraging New Jersey’s multiracial new majority to engage in the electoral process. We must stay committed to advancing our mission of expanding the electorate to include voters who remain on the political margins of our society.
This expansion will be accomplished by enhancing and broadening key components of our efforts — combining traditional civic engagement programs with 21st century demographic data and civic engagement technology.
The technology, strategy and staff put in place gives us the capacity to carry out a plan to train, educate, and mobilize a significant number of voters of color (VOC) in the primary. As a result, PAC+ is now in a position to help elect Cory Booker.
For PAC+ this epic moment presents both a historic opportunity as well as a significant responsibility. Created to build a voter program that is driven by New Jersey’s changing demographics, we felt compelled to make this chance for New Jersey to elect its first African American U.S. Senator our marque effort for 2013.
I remember when we first started this journey in 2011. I remember how challenging it was to excite New Jersey civic engagement organizations about demographic politics — something that is going to happen in the future but already impacting the political landscape. We started with a poll, evidence based data, and a voter file. After two years of hard work, election votes will be calculated and results evaluated.
It was like a roller coaster ride. By mid-June it appeared that there would be a turnout problem in eight New Jersey counties with historically low VOC turnout rates. According to internal data the counties of Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Middlesex, Passaic, and Salem were in danger of suffering low midsummer turnout rates.
For example, in Atlantic only 7,572 votes were cast in this year’s Democrat gubernatorial primary. Then Bergen, peculiar for north New Jersey, reported just 14,036 votes – far lower than the 16,197 from 2005. In Gloucester only 5,613 residents voted – almost 1,000 less than in 2005. In Middlesex we saw a 4,991 vote drop from 2005. All of those counties had turnout rates considerably better in 2005.
The numbers in Atlantic County were especially troubling because both the Democrat and Republican campaigns had spent a considerable amount of time engaging Jersey shore voters who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Clearly the multiple issues related to recovering from a disaster were a factor in the decreased effectiveness of conventional voter contact programs.
What very few realized is that Atlantic also underwent a political geographical transformation as well. In 2010, the county’s population increased by 8% with 16,000 inactive voters and 56,000 unregistered residents. Moreover voters of color make up 39% of the population.
In a few days, we will see the true value of an organized VOC electorate during a low turnout election. Recognizing the power that VOC have in pushing their candidate to the top, PAC+ was determined to follow the advice of Yale professor Don Green: “personal contact by a trusted messenger is the gold standard.”
Unlike most political organizations, PAC+ did not neglect this core principle in its efforts to reach VOC. It’s reflected in everything from our data collection strategies to cross-platform civic engagement and was utilized to strategically micro-target voters of color.
The power of this moment is the narrative which describes what most political experts know is true –if we strategically register, educate, and turnout VOC we can not only flip the outcomes of their specific neighborhoods and districts, but have major impact in deciding the next Mayor, U.S. Congressman, U.S. Senator and Governor.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC
By Kirk Clay
Can Anger and Frustration Be Channeled to Achieve Significant Gains in Politics?
Two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved People of Color
(POC) in Texas received word from the Union Army on June 19, 1865, that they were free. Today, that date is remembered and celebrated as Juneteenth and it commemorates the celebration of freedom for all Americans. It is also the day Election Protection – a program designed to protect all American’s right to vote – was launched. The pilot program was launched in Virginia’s 2001 special election to fill a seat in Congressional District 4.
I remember the day we began Election Protection – it was in response to the November 2000 election disaster. Progressive Whites and Voters of Color (VOC) in many states registered and turned out in record numbers, but many were turned away or had their votes invalidated. We all know the story line of that election. But, in the discussion about which candidate won or lost and why, what is often unnoticed is that the biggest losers were, without a doubt, the voters.
Just like the disenfranchisement of 2000, floods of regressive laws that are being passed in red state legislatures today are hurting voters. The Tea Party extremists behind these initiatives remind us of how fragile our voting rights really are. In fact, VOC still face a combination of systemic inequities, inadequate voter education, and inappropriate actions by government officials. To make matters worse, as expressed at a recent anti-immigration rally, many of these obstructionists believe “The Melting Pot Floweth Over.”
There is a real danger that the actions of these politicians could fuel cynicism and apathy in our democracy. What if potential young voters and voters of color (VOC) respond by reaffirming the sentiment that their vote is unlikely to change this dynamic? This is especially a problem among first time voters that made strides last year in electing officials that share their interests. Note that these voters are historically marginalize in mid-term elections anyway and are more likely to get stuck in a long line or have their votes discarded altogether. But along with that vulnerability, there is the real problem of intentional voter suppression.
For example, while voters under 30 were 21% of the electorate in Virginia in 2008 that number dropped to 10% in 2009. Also, voters waited an average of 23.6 minutes to vote in 2012 and their number didn’t match 2008.
This could be pivotal in a district of influence – Congressional district that is not necessarily majority minority but has enough diversity to impact the election. Like Virginia’s CD-4 which is close to 5% Latino, 31% African American, 2% Asian and President Obama garnered close to 50% of the vote.
That’s why it’s so important to invest in these communities early. These near-tragedies of generational subjugation can be avoided with a cross platform civic engagement program. You can shape the future of politics by taking compassionate measures and advancing the authentic voices of our movement. That process begins with embracing diversity. The greatest gift we can give to our future leaders is an opportunity to vote.
In the end, getting young people to engage in politics is like trying to push a boulder over a hill. When you have a strong progressive coalition to help, that boulder begins to move more quickly. For better or worse, young voters of color will move to the next phase during which the boulder will begin to charge down the hill. The impact of this rolling stone could be epic. Politically, you do not want to be on the other side of the boulder. #NJ123
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC