WEIGHING PUBLIC OPINION, TARGETING THE RIGHT VOTERS

English: John Lewis speaks during the final da...

The Value / Vote Analysis for People of Color

By Kirk Clay

Growing up in Toledo, I can remember when a local sports team would win the city championship and advance to the state tournament. The affect it had on the community was tremendous. It energized us, and gave us a sense of achievement for our community and for the entire the city. It united all of Toledo.  In contrast, I’m not sure what to make of the recent firestorm over Chrysler’s NFL “Halftime In America” ad.

The ad seems to be a story about how one of our nation’s greatest companies is recovering from an economic downturn and now bouncing back to regain its role in the auto industry, the city of Detroit and the nation.  It reminds us that with hard work and tough decisions, we can bounce back.  Yet some politicians are complaining.  They believe the ad was not appropriate and some even suggest that it was promoting a partisan message.

Back in Toledo, we believed that a victory for our neighborhood was a victory for our city. So we always cheered for the home team. This applied to sports as well as politics. Even early in my career, all my impressions were centered by my father’s philosophy. “Son,” he would say bouncing a ball off his foot for effect, “you have to cheer a friend to endear a friend.”

In the 90’s, I remember working with a number of progressive partners to defeat a regressive ballot initiative in Colorado. I remember how challenging it was to excite People of Color (POC) about something they really didn’t identify with but were impacted by. We started down 20 points but after an aggressive public education campaign defeated the initiative by 12 points.  This happened because everyone was included and all segments of the community worked together as a team.

Fast forward a decade–the fruits of that kind of work were on full display at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. The event represented the culmination of a collective effort by Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans to encourage the election of the first Person of Color to the highest office of the land.

As I walked the city, going from event to event, we couldn’t help but to notice how unified the people were. There was something in the air. It had nothing to do with its thinness, although I did get a nosebleed one night.

In fact, I wondered if this was just something about those of us visiting the area or if people who lived in Denver felt the same way. So I went to one of Denver’s oldest African American neighborhoods, the historic Five Points community, in search of the real spirit.

I talked with a few residents and came to the conclusion that many were just as emboldened as the convention goers. In fact, many believed that any step forward for a person of color was a victory for every American. They referred to Denver’s long progressive history. They talked about the Buffalo soldiers, early Hispanic settlers, and the hundreds of activist that helped to give women more political and economic equality.

I asked them about the contours of Colorado’s current electorate. They told me about ex-Gov. Owens, and how Colorado had turned blue. They reminded me that even in 2004 when President Bush was re-elected and the GOP picked up seats on the Hill, the Democrats withstood the national surge. They took control of both houses in the Legislature and won a U.S. Senate seat. Moreover, in 2006 the governor’s office turned blue.

What the 2010 Census has revealed is that Colorado underwent a political geographical transformation. Note that President Obama won by 9%, the Democrats added another U.S. Senator, and they took five of the seven congressional seats. Moreover, people of color (POC) were 14% of the state’s vote share in 2008.  We saw more evidence of this shift in 2010 when during a wave year for the Tea Party, Colorado’s POC voters increased to 19% of the vote share and pushed the progressive statewide candidate over the top.

The truth is that the 2010 census only explains part of the story. Yes, the Denver population grew by 8.2% to 600,158 people and it currently has over 130,000 key POC voters. But it took the inspiration that the POC political leadership felt from the progressive community for so many to participate in the electoral process.  In fact progressive philanthropists and think tanks have invested resources in these communities for years.

The optimism of these progressive leaders continues to create opportunities for the POC political leaders to demonstrate their talents, skills, and value. Like my father says, we must understand that supporting a diverse team of political leaders will ultimately create an environment for success.

Rooting for higher POC voter registration rates, increased civic participation rates, and a more fair enforcement of civil and human rights laws only emboldens democracy. Progressive leaders understand that any victory for the team is a victory for America. That’s popping the clutch. 

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 Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPac

VOTE WITH POLITICAL CAPITAL, MAXIMIZE OUR INFLUENCE

People of Color May Impact Congressional Elections

By Kirk Clay

What a difference “a state” makes. Can you believe that the GOP nomination contest now features a front running Newt Gingrich? All it took was a 40% win in South Carolina and boom. Then tonight’s “Hispanic” debate in Jacksonville, FL may give Newt even more momentum. That may lead Romney to consider a flip on his “dream act veto” position. I guess the fact that Hispanics make up 12% of the Republican Party in Florida may have something to do with that.

As this election season kicks into full swing, it is clear that there are a number of important states and districts in which People of Color (POC) may help to decide both primary and general election results. For example POC in Florida make up 29.5% of the Citizen Voting Age Population and 69% are registered to vote. In 2008, POC made up 28.9% of the vote share in the general election although more than a third did not vote (37.7%). (census.gov) Imagine what could happen in 2012 if we energize and turn out every eligible voter?  Especially in places like Jacksonville, FL where there are over 200,000 “Key” POC voters and where voters were recently able to elect that city’s first African American mayor. 

Changes in congressional seats are at stake as well. We know that reapportionment gave Florida two congressional seats. So, there is no doubt that there will be a number of heated contests in which incumbents will face strong challengers. In these races pitting refurbished conservative candidates against surging progressive candidates, most of the focus will be on the fact that the Democrats need 25 seats to take back the house and the Republicans need 10 seats to win control of the Senate.

But there are other dynamics in these elections that may prove to be far more significant. Political experts often portray people of color as incidental as it relates to the broader sphere of American politics. Moreover, they seem to find it difficult to connect election results to evidence-based demographic trends. On one hand, they seem to recognize the fact that certain POC turnout levels will produce reliable results. On the other hand, they miss the fact that those turnout levels are connected to resources and political investment in POC communities.

The astonishing part is that most everyone acknowledges the unspoken high watermark. The fact is that, 4 years ago in South Carolina the POC community lit the torch that led a young African American candidate to the Presidency. But this didn’t just happen on a wing and a prayer; POC organizations began to connect the dots in early January. Moreover, these organizations did not follow the “vintage” campaign models for POC engagement.

In particular, PowerPAC made a significant investment toward engaging communities of color early in the Primary season. In fact, they were the first organization to hit South Carolina’s airwaves. They understood that “hope” and “change” wouldn’t have a chance if someone did not expand democracy to South Carolina’s POC community early. They knew that there were pockets of voters that could be the difference if given the chance. The results show that all the POC electorate needs is a systematic political structure powered by evidence based data. Note that he won the Primary with 54% of the vote.

The same holds true for other parts of the country. Young POC politicians are running for office in central Florida, northeast Texas, southwest Ohio, south central Arizona, Southern Nevada, and a number of places in California.

There is no doubt that these politicians are more than capable of running competent campaigns. The truth is, they are beneficiaries of the civil rights movement and gained valuable tools from our forebears. That’s probably what led them to throw their hat in the ring to begin with. Their interests represent our collective guiding beliefs. Once in office, POC politicians will have the opportunity to build coalitions and work towards creating a collective social, cultural, and economic apparatus for Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans.

But will their war chest benefit from the collective social economic advancements of the progressive community? Will they receive the support they need to defeat their opponents? If we care about diversity in political leadership, we shouldn’t just express our support through the vote. We should express our concern through monetary civic engagement. The fact is, if you invest political resources in a POC community, you will most likely have a positive return. That’s popping the CLUTCH.

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Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPac