With only days until Election Day a handful of key U.S. Senate races are still too close to call. Many of these races have Democratic incumbents running on unfavorable turf, “red” states won in the Obama wave of 2008. That they remain so close is incredibly significant.
Voter turnout is decisive to the outcome. Labor and its allies are going all out to reach every potential supporter, including discouraged voters. They’re more likely to go to the polls if they understand what’s at stake and believe their vote can make a difference.
But one thing is certain – the Republican right wing expects to win by pouring massive amounts of money into battleground races and employing two related scorched earth tactics: racism and voter suppression.
The Republican right is brazenly suppressing the votes of African Americans, Latinos, and students, through laws upheld by the right wing-dominated Supreme Court. These laws could disenfranchise millions of Democratic base voters, including 600,000 in Texas and 200,000 in Virginia, not to mention the “lost” cards of 40,000 newly-registered voters in Georgia.
Under the new stricter voter ID laws, voter turnout dropped by 100,000 in Tennessee and Kansas in 2012 or 2 percent. And that’s all it takes to win close elections.
On top of that, almost six million Americans will be denied the right to vote because of felony convictions, including one in 13 African-Americans.
At the same time it’s increasingly difficult for Republicans to win on the basis of the issues. Majorities now support a higher minimum wage, taxing the rich, marriage equality, immigration reform, reproductive rights and equal pay for women, action on climate change and student loan debt relief.
Over the past few months, important national conversations have taken place including around institutionalized racism and police brutality stemming from the events in Ferguson, domestic violence and climate change. These have influenced how people are thinking.
To divert attention from their obstructionist role in Congress and their stand on the issues, the Republican ultra right is desperately employing the only thing left – continuation of its 45-year “Southern Strategy,” i.e. using racist appeals to exploit the economic fears and insecurities of white workingclass voters, especially men. In so doing, they seek to fool white workers into voting against their class and self interests and for what is morally reprehensible.
The GOP desperately tried to make this election about President Obama by repeatedly pledging to repeal Obamacare. But this largely failed because the benefits of the new health care law are increasingly apparent. So they devised a hysterical message combining the threat of the deadly Ebola outbreak with assertions ISIS is crossing the border (presumably with undocumented workers). They accused the Obama administration of incompetence in dealing with these issues.
The election results will reveal how effective this strategy is. But a new Pew poll shows that while 30 percent of voters intend to cast their vote for congressional candidates as a vote against President Obama, 20 percent will vote to support Obama and 45 percent say Obama will not be a factor at all.
Some Democratic candidates think they can win by distancing themselves from the President when what’s needed is a spirited fight against the racist appeals. A good example is former President Bill Clinton who declared, “(Republicans) want you to cast resentment votes, resentment against the president, resentment against the Affordable Care Act, resentment against the last bad thing that happened.”
Or AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka who, in a speech to the Missouri AFL-CIO convention said, “That conversation needs to be about racism and some other things as well. Call it classism, call it the blindness of our nation to the poor of all races and nationalities. Call it contempt for the people who do the work in our country. It needs to be addressed.”
This serves to remind us racist appeals to white voters must be taken on including in “red states,” “red districts,” suburbs, exurbs, rural areas and the Deep South. The broad multi-racial movement led by labor must be built in these areas if equality and democratic advances are to be won. There is no way around it.
A recent poll by Democracy Corps in Louisiana showed that support among many white working class voters for Republican US Senate candidate Bill Cassidy is “soft” and they are open to appeals based on issues of class, income inequality and reproductive rights.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu cannot win reelection without building a multi-racial coalition of voters. Arguments can be made that common interests – black, brown and white – are at stake against big corporate and wealthy interests and those who oppose raising the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid.
Rev. William Barber II, leader of the Forward Together Moral Movement pointed out the same extremists who passed voter suppression laws also “denied 500,000 North Carolinians access to Medicaid, cut unemployment and denied the earned-income tax credit.”
And that’s also why the emergence of a new movement in the Deep South based on multi-racial unity of labor, the Forward Together Moral Movement, and immigrant rights and women’s rights movements offers so much potential to reconfigure the politics of the South and the nation.
Self-interest, class interest and what is morally right are interconnected. Challenging racist appeals is essential to building unity of the very broad coalition of forces needed for victory.
Photo: The Moral Monday movement in North Carolina is seen as the typr of movement that can turn around the GOP’s grip on the South. Chris Seward/AP/The News & Observer