As the election and re-election of President Obama revealed, winning the support of black, Latino and Asian American voters is critical to winning national and many statewide elections, but candidates shouldn't assume they can predict how minorities will vote. African-Americans love Barack Obama, but the president can't turn out those voters for another candidate the way he turned them out for himself. Ask some of those 2010 congressional candidates how that worked out. Candidates must build their own relationships with diverse voters based on shared experiences and shared values to ensure they continue to turn out in record numbers.
In this year's New York City mayoral election, candidate Bill de Blasio is refusing to surrender the black vote to Bill Thompson, the only African-American candidate in the race, and it is having an effect. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, Thompson has the most support from black voters of any of the candidates running, but de Blasio is pulling significant black votes by campaigning hard against the city's "stop and frisk" police policy. He is helped by a popular television ad showing his bi-racial son who sports a big afro and fretting for his safety. Black voters can relate.
De Blasio's success doesn't mean every candidate should go out and marry a partner of another race or parent a child of a targeted ethnic group to win, but it helps to have a demonstrated personal commitment to the well-being of diverse communities. There are still a few weeks until Election Day, so nobody can predict the final tally this far out, but coupling a track record of commitment and an issue platform with appeal will earn candidates a solid look from black and brown voters.
Lazy political observers believes African-American voters only supported Barack Obama because he's black and any black candidate would earn their support. True, black voters were proud of the statement electing Obama would make, but they also supported him because he shared their vision of what America should be and policies that would achieve that vision. Others can do the same and black voters are developing a record of supporting white candidates who appeal to them even in majority black electorates featuring a black candidate.
For instance, in the black majority Memphis congressional district held by two generations of Harold Fords, a coalition of voters including African-Americans elected Steve Cohen to Congress over an African-American woman ... twice. In the recent Detroit mayoral primary, Mike Duggan, who is white, won so many black votes that the Detroit Free Press analysis had him in first place even if he hadn't won a single white or Hispanic vote.
Even though the electorate is becoming more diverse, white candidates can still win support from black and brown voters. "Don't be scurred." Just be authentic. This new electorate has issues that are important to them just like every other group. They want safety for their communities, economic opportunity for their families and respect. Sound familiar?