Black Vote No Longer a Lock for Democrats

The Steele for Maryland campaign has passed along an op-ed in today’s Washington Times arguing that
Democrats are losing their hold on black voters.

Photo: Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele Black voters’ loyalty to the Democratic Party is no longer a certainty in Maryland, especially among young independent voters, several black leaders say. “We might be the last generation of unabashed loyalists to the Democratic Party,” state Senate Majority Leader Nathaniel J. McFadden of Baltimore says. “The Democratic Party is no longer a monolith for the African-American community.” Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George’s County warns his party’s leaders that “black voters can no longer be taken for granted.”

Securing the black vote has become a critical concern among Maryland Democrats in an election year rife with racial politics:

• Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican who is the first black to win statewide office in Maryland, has been lampooned as a minstrel on a liberal Web log, and Democratic operatives wrongly acquired his credit report in his run for the U.S. Senate.

• The Democrat-controlled House has been lining up behind a bill that would return voting rights to 150,000 felons — about 60 percent of whom are black — in time for November’s general election.

• Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley has chosen Delegate Anthony G. Brown of Prince George’s County as his running mate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Mr. O’Malley’s chief opponent — Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan — also is considering a black running mate.

• Prince George’s County, a mostly black jurisdiction with the state’s highest concentration of registered Democrats, has become the focus of attention since low voter turnout in 2002 is believed to have contributed to Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s Republican victory in the governor’s race.

• Former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat who is running for the Senate, has criticized the party for taking black voters for granted, saying “people may find a way to cross over in the fall.”

“Last time for governor, I voted for Michael Steele for lieutenant governor,” says Hubert “Petey” Green, president of the Prince George’s County Black Chamber of Commerce and a lifelong registered Democrat. Black political, business and religious leaders say a shift is occurring, especially among young voters who are less concerned with civil rights and more attentive to economic issues. “The younger black demographic is not as tied in to the Democratic Party,” says Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television. “They’re less likely to be involved in unions, in the types of jobs that tend to follow lockstep party voting, and they tend to be a lot more independent,” says Mr. Johnson, who now owns an NBA franchise and a Bethesda-based development company.

On the one hand, the general premise is non-controversial. Indeed, Mfume and other black leaders have been saying that the Democrats need to stop taking their constituency for granted for years now. Certainly, too, it helps that Republicans continue to put forth strong black leaders like Steele forward. It’s much harder to argue, explicitly or implicitly, that a vote for the Republican candidate is tantamount to a vote for the Klan when the candidate has a black face.

At the same time, blacks still vote for Democrats at rates in the 90 percent plus range. It’s going to take some doing to seriously upset that cycle.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    African Americans are such an important component of the Democratic vote that the Democratic Black vote doesn’t have to go too low before it presents very serious problems for Democratic candidates for Senate, governorships, the Presidency.

  2. James Joyner says:

    True that.

  3. Unfortunately, the Steele campaign and the Maryland Republican Party are doing virtually nothing to capitalize on this opportunity. See my much longer comment at Polipundit.

  4. G A Phillips says:

    Happy days are here again….

  5. floyd says:

    even a blind pig occasionally finds an acorn. the dems are on the right side of this one issue. felons should only have their voting rights suspended while incarcerated and returned upon release.

  6. McGehee says:

    I think when this situation breaks loose, it’s not going to be a gradual shift. I think it’s going to be spectacular.