Black Voters Could Be Decisive Key in Alabama Senate Raceby Charles D. Ellison Tribune Washington Correspondent November 28, 2017
(caption: Roy Moore stands with his wife, Kayla, after conceding the governor’s race to incumbent Bob Riley at the campaign office in Gadsden, Ala in 2006 – AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Despite a torrent of horrific headlines regarding the pedophiliac tendencies of Alabama Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore, many observers still believe that as embattled by embarrassing national headlines as he is, Moore will win on Dec. 12.
And that eventuality is nearing even as some believe Black voters are in a prime position to stop it.
The sense of alarm among many, even some stunned Republicans bracing for backlash from Moore’s election, stems from concern over pools of undecideds.
There is still a significant number of voters claiming they’re “undecided” or “unsure” in this race, a rate considered somewhat high given all the non-stop cycle of negative news handicapping Moore’s campaign. Some analysts remain skeptical that polling respondents are being completely truthful or unable to admit that they’re supporting an accused pedophile for a U.S. Senate seat.
And Moore’s support in recent polling has yet to drop below 45 percent, with the most recent polling putting Democratic nominee Doug Jones ahead by a little less than 1 percent. A WBRC-TV/Raycom News Network poll of 3,000 registered Alabama voters shows Moore with a lead of 2 percentage points over Jones, 47 percent to 45 percent.
A recent Gravis Marketing poll, where the Democrat is ahead by 5 points, also shows 11 percent of voters “uncertain” over where their support will go on December 12. In a key Gravis question – “If you are undecided, which candidate do you most lean toward?” – an overwhelming majority, 61 percent, claim they are uncertain, even as a majority of those voters (22 percent) claim support for Jones over those (17 percent) who claim support for Moore. Interestingly enough, the number of voters believing in accusations against Moore is tied at 35 percent, with 30 percent undecided on that question.
Other polling, such as a FOX News poll released on November 16 show about 9 percent of likely voters either supporting someone else outside of the two major party candidates or claiming they “don’t know” who they’ll vote for. Those numbers match the combined percentage of registered voters who say the same.
Observers still acknowledge that it’s somewhat remarkable to find a major race in a state as deeply red as Alabama being this competitive. Alabama, notorious throughout history as steadfastly segregationist and tainted by a powerful white supremacist footprint, easily offered Donald Trump nearly 63 percent of its voter support. In an unthinkable twist, however, accusations against Moore appear to have posed a serious threat to the longtime Republican political monopoly in the state. Similar to the WBRC-TV poll, the FOX poll also finds that as the number of unknowns shrinks, the rate of Jones voters slightly rises. While the number of “undecided” voters in that WBRC-TV poll had shrunk to 5 points since that first poll on October 19, it did reflect a 4-percentage point drop in overall support for Moore and an increase in support for Jones. And, in a plus for Jones, the FOX poll may offer a nugget of hope for Democrats as the number of likely voters “strongly supporting” Jones is greater than that for Moore, along with the number of voters “disliking Moore” as their reason for supporting Jones. Democrats may find some solace in those numbers, as well as a substantially improved fundraising environment from ongoing controversy over Moore.
Still, observers caution against early exuberance in an election that is still off-cycle and scheduled for a bizarre date unknown for ballot exercises. And experts point out that, typically, high numbers of undecided voters in political environments where there should be so few (such as the case with Moore) suggest an election that is not as cut and dry as it seems.
There is also concern that despite all the TMZ-level news about Moore’s nauseating adult advances towards teenage girls – which he and his supporters do not deny – many observers in and around Alabama have very low expectations for Black voter performance on December 12.
Yet, the Black electorate in Alabama accounts for nearly 30 percent of all voters.
In a move reminiscent of the 2016 presidential campaign, Democrats seem more focused on an electoral case highlighting sexual misconduct accusations against Moore than on what their own nominee, Jones, can do for Alabama. And a mix of advocates and strategists either on the ground in Alabama or intimately familiar with Jones’ campaign strategy do not see any major Black voter mobilization efforts taking place.
“Yes, you got it, despite all that’s going on, Democrats are not using this moment to capitalize on these big pools of Black voters down here,” one operative tells The Tribune on background. “To me, no one is really taking the Black vote down here seriously, or even nationally for that matter.
“They just feel like it’s a big red state and Black voters don’t really count that much in big red states.”
Much of the doubt surrounding Black voter performance in Alabama is rooted in an awareness that white evangelical voters, 35 percent of the state’s electorate, reign supreme. Moore draws his heaviest support from white evangelicals who are more afraid of a Democrat representing them in Washington than they are of an accused repeat-offending Republican pedophile who was actually banned from a shopping mall because of his reputation.
Because of their high population and electoral numbers in the state, Black voters could be decisive.
For Quinnipiac University’s Khalilah Brown-Dean, this is essential for Democrats beyond the special Senate race in Alabama. “If Democrats can’t mount a targeted mobilization campaign of Black voters in an environment like this one so full of opportunities to do so, then how can they mount voter mobilization efforts in major 2018 races coming up?”
Heather Jones, a Democratic strategist and former Obama White House senior aide in the Office of Public Engagement, points out that while Alabama races rarely get the spotlight, this Senate race has been unusually different from the beginning – and that could be partly due to an otherwise ignored Black voter presence that is normally discounted in statewide races. “African American voters in Alabama were already familiar with Doug Jones before this race,” Heather Jones tells the Tribune, pointing out his legal work on behalf of marginalized communities for a number of years “not just in theory but in actual practice.”
Jones the strategist argues Alabama Democrats understand there is a Black electoral pathway to a Jones the candidate win. There are massive pockets of Black voters in the metropolitan areas like Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville and Montgomery, along with some rural counties, as well. That realization, according to Jones, “has aided voter mobilization efforts which has been a cross effort in rallying areas like Birmingham which just elected a young mayor mainly by millennial votes and also using the states’ network of churches and schools.”
There is also heightened HBCU student organizing to ensure low propensity and moderate voters turnout on December 12th.
But others, like Birmingham Urban League CEO William Barnes, are a bit more cynical. White evangelicals are very powerful in Alabama, and there is also the looming specter of voter suppression efforts that have been very effective in diluting Black voter strength in most rural areas.
“I have no faith in the polls,” Barnes told the Tribune during a broadcast of Reality Check on WURD. You know Alabama is in the Bible belt, and the white evangelicals are digging in their heels. Moore is a man who’s been twice elected and twice removed from office and they’ve supported him for years.”
Barnes points out that “there’s been several conversations in smaller pockets of organizing and, of course, the Black vote is powerful is here. But when we look at the numbers, it’s an off cycle and the numbers may be low.
For Barnes, Black voters in Alabama want their votes to count. And there is hesitation from Black church influencers to get too immersed in the controversy over Moore because the issue of sexual harassment and abuse is also a very sensitive topic within the community that many Black women have been victims of.
Brown-Dean also wonders why Black clergy have not been as vocal in helping push back against white evangelical Biblical justifications for Moore’s behavior.
“When you look at who’s there, folks like Rev. William Barber out of North Carolina, there are Black church leaders who are trying,” said Brown Dean. “But where are those Alabama ministers who are saying, loud and clear, that we’re not tolerating this behavior and justification. It probably has something to do with their being unable to answer difficult questions about that deacon or preacher who was doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing.”