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Are Democrats reaching black voters?

Published:Monday | August 8, 2022 | 12:06 AM
Valeri Langston is seen at a rally for Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes at John Marshall High School in Milwaukee.
Valeri Langston is seen at a rally for Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes at John Marshall High School in Milwaukee.

MILWAUKEE (AP):

Facing critical races for governor and US Senate, Democratic hopefuls in Wisconsin are hoping that their support for abortion rights in the face of a Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v Wade can overcome the headwinds of a mid-term election long expected to favour Republicans. But there’s one key group their strategies might fail to mobilise: Black voters.

An issue with strong support from white Democrats is more complicated in the black community, especially among church-goers who hold more conservative views on abortion. The topic is so fraught that most community organizers avoid bringing it up.

“Among the Black Baptist church alone, that would split us in half,” said David Liners, executive director of WISDOM, a faith-based organising group with a statewide presence, when asked why his group isn’t organizing around abortion. Karen Royster, spokeswoman for Milwaukee-based Souls to the Polls, called abortion “taboo” in church circles, making it difficult for faith leaders to do any sort of work around it.

Other groups, like Black Leaders Organizing Communities, “won’t proactively bring up the issue” while doing voter outreach, but will discuss it if it comes up, said Angela Lang, BLOC’s executive director.

It’s an issue bound to get even more focus after a decisive statewide vote in heavily Republican Kansas last week in favour of protecting abortion access, buoying Democratic hopes the issue could galvanise voters elsewhere.

ABORTION SHOULD BE LEGAL

AP VoteCast shows that overall, black voters in the 2020 presidential election were more likely than white or Hispanic voters to say abortion should usually be legal. But among those identifying with or leaning toward the Democratic Party, things looked different. White Democrats were more likely than either black or Hispanic Democrats to say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, 88 per cent to 77 per cent to 76 per cent.

Valerie Langston, a 64-year-old Milwaukee woman who is black, backs Democrats and supports abortion rights. She said she’s afraid to bring up the issue with friends because she has occasionally been surprised to learn that some of them are anti-abortion.

“They’re still going to vote Democrat even if they don’t agree with abortion,” she said.

Democratic Governor Tony Evers, who won election four years ago by just over one percentage point, said he isn’t worried about voter enthusiasm. He has noted that he has vetoed nine bills from the Republican-controlled Legislature that would have restricted abortion access. At a news conference, he projected confidence that the issue will carry him to re-election.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any trouble,” Evers said when asked if he thought voters with varied views on abortion might not be motivated to support him.

Doctors in Wisconsin have stopped providing abortions after the Supreme Court’s ruling due to an 1849 ban that Republican lawmakers have said they want to update. Anti-abortion groups have said they’ll work to clarify the law to defend against challenges.

ECONOMIC CONCERNS

State Senator La Tonya Johnson, a black Democrat who represents a majority-black district in Milwaukee, noted many voters are focused on economic concerns. She said she hasn’t seen groups going door-to-door to talk about abortion rights, even though Black women are more likely than any other group to obtain an abortion, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party’s engagement teams that work directly with voters of colour year-round prefer to take conversations where voters lead them, spokeswoman Iris Riis said. When it comes to abortion, “It’s not the only thing we’re talking to voters about, but we are talking about it,” she said.

Shakya Cherry-Donaldson, executive director of 1000 Women Strong, a national political organising group focused on issues that matter to black women, favours a more direct approach. The key is to focus on the idea that “we have to have autonomy from the state”, she said, which is a message that resonates enough with a historically marginalised community to overcome personal and religious views on the morality of abortion.

“The framing of our messaging is that we cannot go back, only forward. Civil rights were won for all of us,” Cherry-Donaldson said.

But her group is not in Wisconsin this year, focusing its efforts in seven other states where they were able to staff and fund their work.