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Republicans Sense an Opening Among Black Voters

A recent poll found that Biden's approval rating among Black adults has dropped to 58 percent. Meanwhile election tool ERIC is under serious attack and the annals of non-cooperation.

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson
Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and President Joe Biden. (TNS)
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Republicans Sense an Opening Among Black Voters: Joe Biden owes his job to Black voters. His candidacy was nearly dead in 2020 until Black Democrats in South Carolina resurrected him by fueling his primary win there. Biden kept his promise to put a Black woman on the Supreme Court – part of his record number of appointments of Black judges to the federal bench – while delivering billions in additional funding for historically Black colleges and universities (although a lot less than once promised). But Biden has failed to deliver satisfyingly when it comes to the basics – namely, the economy. Unemployment for Black Americans reached a record low this year, but a recent survey from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that 74 percent say their personal finances have either weakened or stayed the same over the past year.

Another recent poll found that Biden’s approval rating among Black adults had dropped to 58 percent – not bad, but well down from the 90s he scored early in his term. Yet one more poll found that Black voters were concerned about both the president’s handling of the economy and his age, with 27 percent saying they would “definitely” or “probably” vote for former President Donald Trump over Biden if he’s the GOP nominee in 2024. The Democratic share of the vote among Black men has slipped with every election since Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012.

The majority of the Black vote will remain Democratic for the foreseeable future, but Republicans know any diminishment in support among the other party’s most loyal constituency is good news for them. Support for the GOP has grown more multiracial in the Trump era, thanks to inroads among Hispanic voters and some Asian American communities. Last year, as part of a concerted effort to diversify the GOP caucus in the U.S. House, five Black Republicans were elected in majority-white districts. Last week, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott became the second African American to join the Republican presidential field (after radio host and failed California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder), while last month Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron won the GOP nomination for governor.

But Republicans are dreaming if they think they’ll make serious inroads among Black voters next year, suggests Michael Fauntroy, founding director of the Race, Politics and Policy Center at George Mason University. “There are voters across the spectrum of the Democratic coalition, including Black voters, who had unrealistic expectations about what was going to happen once Biden took office,” he says, pointing to limits on the president’s agenda naturally placed by the reality of a tied Senate (and now a GOP-controlled House).

Dashed hopes may lead them to consider alternatives – but Trump won’t be an acceptable choice, Fauntroy says. Neither is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose “aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programs in Florida schools,” led the NAACP to issue a travel advisory warning against travel to the state. “You’re listening to Ron DeSantis using Black concerns as a whipping post to generate excitement among the conservative base,” Fauntroy says. “Woke, DEI – all those things are proxies for attacks on Black people.”

The sense that the Democratic Party, for all its faults and failures to deliver on some promises, staunchly supports the rights of Black Americans dates back to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Remaining united as a bloc within the party has allowed Black voters to remain influential – including Black conservatives who might otherwise be drawn to the GOP on ideological grounds – according to Ismail White, a political scientist at Princeton University.

Many Black voters remain convinced that the GOP, while it sometimes may showcase Black candidates and welcomes them to stray from the Democratic fold, remains hostile to their interests on issues such as voting rights and police brutality. As long as that perception holds, the vast majority of Black voters will support Biden and other Democratic candidates, if only defensively. “I didn’t vote for Biden, I voted against Trump,” one Black woman in Illinois said in a recent focus group. “I think that [Biden] would be the better option than Trump or DeSantis – the GOP, period.”
Voters waiting in a long line in Indiana during the 2020 elections
Voters waiting in a long line in Indiana during the 2020 elections. (TNS)
Undermining an Election Tool: Michael Adams believes it’s important not to give into conspiracy theories. The Republican recently won renomination as Kentucky secretary of state, running against a pair of election deniers. He knows that a key election tool available to states is being weakened by complaints that are false. Nonetheless, he’s considering giving it up.

The tool is ERIC, the acronym for the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit group that allows states to share information about voter registration. It’s been helpful for states trying to keep their voter rolls clean when citizens move to other states. But ERIC is under serious attack, due to false claims that it’s funded by liberal billionaire George Soros and sharing information with groups on the left. Virginia recently became the eighth state to leave ERIC, while the Texas Legislature cleared a departure bill on Monday.

ERIC backers say this will leave election officials having to deal with longer lines and more provisional ballots as it becomes more difficult for them to check voter rolls. Last Friday, Arizona Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed an ERIC exodus bill passed by the GOP-led Legislature. “It's the only way, currently, that states can find people registered in other states,” says Lauren Bowman, director of media affairs at the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative group that supports making some changes in how ERIC conducts its business.

“States can do a lot of things by themselves, but finding out if someone is registered in another state is not one of them.”

Officials in some of the states leaving ERIC have suggested they can set up a new and better compact to check voter rolls. Easier said than done. Such a pledge also suggests some new group could achieve the level of bipartisan support and cooperation that ERIC engendered, until recently. “As it gets harder to be bipartisan in politics today, it’s going to be harder to come up with a new ERIC, where Democrats and Republicans can get something out of it,” says Adams, the Kentucky secretary of state.

With the number of ERIC states dropping from more than 30 to potentially less than half, Adams is concerned that the quality and amount of data he’ll gain access to will necessarily diminish, while his dues as a remaining state could suddenly spike. For those reasons, he’s considering giving up a tool that has helped Kentucky remove 300,000 errant registrations from its rolls. “Our value proposition becomes a lot lower,” Adams says. “It’s got nothing to do with George Soros; it has to do with access to information.”
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (TNS)
Annals of Non-cooperation: A few weeks ago, I wrote about Kevin Stitt, the governor of Oklahoma, and his threat to veto all bills unless the Legislature passed his key priorities. Legislators weren’t intimidated. Last week, they approved a budget with very little input from the governor or attention to his concerns, while overriding his vetoes in other areas.

In addition to thumbing their noses at Stitt on the budget, Oklahoma legislators overrode his veto of a bill that will allow the Legislature to appoint two-thirds of the members of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. Both Stitt and the legislative majority are Republican.

In some states where Republicans control the legislature and Democrats hold the governorship, legislators have stripped powers from the executive. The North Carolina Legislature is on track to do just that, moving a bill to take appointment powers for various boards and commissions away from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Oregon Republicans, a decided minority in the Legislature there, have nonetheless managed to block Democratic priority bills in recent sessions by failing to show up, depriving the state Senate of its necessary two-thirds quorum. Last fall, Oregon voters approved a measure that bars lawmakers with 10 unexcused absences during a session from running for re-election.

Nearly all Republicans in the Oregon Senate have hit their limit in the effort to block consideration of bills regarding abortion and transgender health services. We’ll bring you coverage of the inevitable lawsuits if and when the truants are blocked from seeking re-election.

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Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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