The shrinking white vote that doomed Mitt Romney on Tuesday has sparked a sobering national debate over who should be allowed inside an expanded Republican tent – and what the invitations should look like.
According to exit polling, white voters made up 72 percent of the U.S. electorate, another step in a well-documented decline.
We won’t have a racial breakdown of the statewide vote for several weeks. But among all those registered, white voters for the first time made up less than 60 percent of the Georgia electorate.
With the right candidate, some Democrats think Georgia can be a player in the 2016 presidential contest. Realistic contention in a race for governor could require more time – though not much.
Georgia, like the rest of the country, is quickly entering a period in which every demographic group will have to form an alliance with another if it is to succeed politically.
So what can be done to extend the 10-year Republican reign in Georgia? Curiously, the first move goes to 60 Democratic members of the 180-member House, who gather Monday at the state
Capitol to select their officers. Stacy Abrams of Atlanta will remain House Democratic leader.
Party elders are worried that the caucus, now comprised of a large African-American majority, won’t recognize the need to include white lawmakers in its leadership.
It is a subtle question – the public does not care. But those who still finance and otherwise prop up the beleaguered party understand that when Democrats put on a segregated face, they allow Republicans to do the same.
The second move may belong to Gov. Nathan Deal. But don’t take my word for it. This comes from Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, who on Thursday unveiled a poll of 1,400 African-Americans in four states, taken in the days leading up to the election. Georgia was one of those four.
President Barack Obama earned 45 percent of the Georgia vote on Tuesday, only a point or so off his 2008 performance. According to the NAACP poll, enthusiasm for re-electing the country’s first black president accounted for about 5 percentage points in Georgia this year.
Democrats “must quickly figure out how to motivate these voters who – if Obama is not at the top of the ticket – simply go away,” Jealous said.
Republicans in Georgia, on the other hand, must find a way to appeal to a significant number of black voters if they’re to thrive long-term.
That may sound futile. When it comes to issues such as civil rights and equality, 87 percent of African-Americans polled declared that GOP concern was either “just talk,” or simply didn’t exist.
But Jealous pointed to one chink in the Democratic armor. When it came to reducing the “mass incarceration” of black men in America, only 30 percent thought Democrats were putting much effort to the issue.
This is the Republican opening, Jealous said, pointing out that two governors, Deal in Georgia and Rick Perry in Texas, have taken the lead in this area. They prefer to call it “criminal justice reform,” and have approached it largely as a cost concern.
The problem, according to Jealous: “The Republican party hasn’t done a very good job of talking about an issue on which they’ve led.”
If you talk to Democrats in Georgia, what keeps them awake at night is the possibility that Republicans might have time to snatch victory from the jaws of demographic-driven defeat.
Deal stands for re-election in 2014. Odds are that Democrats will be unable to offer anything more than token opposition. Once he’s past a Republican primary, Deal would be free to maneuver – and Democrats fear that he might take aim at their African-American base, and skim off enough black voters to stave off GOP decline for a few additional years.
It is a topic that makes Deal aides nervous. The governor’s close relationship with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has already become a source of conversation within the GOP base.
But Deal appears to recognize the possibilities of 2014. “There are things that are considered to be important by the electorate that do not necessarily hinge on whose idea it was. For our state, criminal justice reform is a classic example of that. It certainly bridged the party divide,” he said Thursday. ”I’m going to encourage the [Republican] party at the state level to do that.”
By itself, whether called “mass incarceration” or “criminal justice reform,” the topic isn’t a barn-burner likely to change 50 years of voting habits among black voters. But add education, and you may have the start of something.
On Tuesday, Amendment One passed with an ease that surprised even Deal, taking two out of every three African-American votes in metro Atlanta. This despite official opposition to the charter school measure from the state Democratic party and stalwarts like the Rev. Joe Lowery.
That has the makings of a new wedge issue. Look for Republicans to use it.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider