Jackson Confirmation Aside, G.O.P. Sees an Opening With Black Voters

The spectacle created by Republican senators with presidential ambitions as they bullied the first black woman nominee to the Supreme Court, after which 47 Republicans voted against her on Thursday, might have seemed like blatant evidence that the GOP had called off the vote black this november.

far from there In rising inflation, skyrocketing gas prices, lingering Covid frustrations and new anxieties over the war in Ukraine, Republicans see a new opportunity, after the Obama and Trump eras, to weed out some black voters who, according to polls, are increasingly disenchanted with the Biden administration. .

Thanks to gerrymandering, Republicans don’t need to win too many black voters to sway a handful of races, and dozens of black Republican House candidates, a record number of them, are reshaping the party’s discourse.

If anything, the GOP’s treatment of Supreme Court nominee Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was a testament to the party’s confidence that, amid so many more powerful political forces and objects of greater public attention, their handling your commit just didn’t matter. much.

“I think the blacks that this would turn off weren’t voting Republican anyway, no matter what,” said Wesley Hunt, a veteran of the Black Army and a Republican newcomer to politics who is running for a seat in the House. Texas House of Representatives.

Senate Republican leaders had warned colleagues before the confirmation fight to keep proceedings civil and cordial, clearly worried that the sight of a phalanx of white Republican inquisitors would alienate voters in an election year. But if Democrats still believe Justice Jackson’s harsh treatment will prompt black voters to come out this November and vote Democrat in large numbers, they are likely to be disappointed.

For frustrated voters of all stripes struggling to pay their bills and fill their tanks, the November vote may simply be an opportunity to vote against the party in power.

“We are not a monolith,” said Jennifer-Ruth Green, a Black Air Force veteran running for Congress in northwest Indiana as a Republican. “We see inflation and gasoline prices. Voters are not stupid.”

In Gary, Indiana, Roshaun Knowles, 42, a cosmetologist taking a break from Billco Barber Shop, outlined how the confirmation hearings would play out as she considered her vote this fall. She said that she had felt desperate when an accomplished black woman was questioned by white senators who, in her opinion, lacked the intellect and poise of Judge Jackson.

“Being in a room full of white people asking him questions about where he learned what he learned and what he’s capable of, you know, didn’t sit well with me,” Knowles said. “She should have been treated like a white man would have been treated,” she added.

But, she said, the vaccination mandates cost her a job as a property manager for a housing authority after she refused the shot. Stimulus checks kept too many people out of the workforce. And President Biden? “He hasn’t been doing anything,” she said. “What has he done?”

Ms. Knowles said she was leaning toward voting Republican this fall, as she did in 2020, when she voted for Donald J. Trump, after voting for Hillary Clinton four years earlier and Barack Obama twice.

Republicans on the campaign trail and on the airwaves are pushing the image of a faltering Democratic leadership that has no idea how to handle economic uncertainty, the persistent pandemic and rising crime. When GOP officials are asked about the party’s strategy toward black voters, they invariably ask the few black GOP elected officials and candidates to come up with the proposal.

But tellingly, black Republican candidates like Ms. Green and John James, who is running for a Michigan House seat, do not publicize their party affiliations, only their biographies, a sign that the Republican brand it is still toxic in some corners.

And Republican outreach efforts boil down to little more than tapping into black discontent with Democrats.

Paris Dennard, director of black media affairs for the Republican National Committee, said the party had opened eight community centers across the country to engage black voters. Candidates like Hunt are proof that the party’s message is inspiring black Republicans to run, she said.

But a message focused on Democrats’ shortcomings deprives black voters of hearing the policies they really want, said Leah Wright Rigueur, author of “The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power.”

“It’s an incredibly effective strategy, but it’s also insidious,” said Dr. Rigueur, an associate professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. “It only works when there is that dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party.”

Yet it works even with black voters who during the Obama and Trump years were remarkably united behind the Democratic Party.

“I don’t think Biden is really in office,” Robert Sanders taunted as he cut Gary’s hair, echoing criticism from the political right of the 79-year-old president. “I think he is being escorted through the office.”

Biden’s weakening approval rating among black voters is a clear warning to Democrats. The president’s approval among black registered voters dipped to 62 percent in March from 83 percent last summer in an NBC News poll and was unaffected by the Supreme Court fight, said Bill McInturff of Public Opinion. Strategies, a Republican polling firm that conducted the survey. with the Democratic firm Hart Research.

The percentage of black voters in the poll who said they strongly approved of the president’s actions fell to 28 percent last month, from 46 percent between April and August of last year. And the intensity of support predicts turnout in elections.

Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster who is black, said the polls were going back to the days before Obama encouraged black voters positively and Trump encouraged them negatively. Before 2008, he noted, it was normal for 12 to 14 percent of the black electorate to vote Republican.

“What is more problematic is the lack of energy levels among younger voters, particularly younger African Americans,” Belcher said, noting that young voters of color in 2018 had carried Democrats into the House. “It’s a younger, unenthusiastic, disenchanted, frustrated electorate right now, more like the electorate of 2014 and 2010 than 2018, and that’s disastrous.”

Democratic officials say they are responding with black voter mobilization projects that began earlier than in previous mid-cycles. Last spring, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hired organizers in five key states to focus on key Democratic constituencies. On Thursday, the committee announced a new round of ad buys with black media outlets.

Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the committee, said Republican efforts to court black voters were disingenuous given voting records among party members on pandemic relief, criminal justice reform and legislation on clean air and water.

“Almost every Republican in Congress opposed our priorities,” said Taylor, who is black.

Because of rigged district lines, most Republican House candidates don’t need many, if any, Black voters. But in districts like Indiana First, with its narrow Democratic lean and a Republican target at its back, a Republican challenger will need to make inroads with black voters, or at least hope for a soft turnout from Democrats.

Judge Jackson’s harsh reception doesn’t appear to be a threat to that hope. Even the black voters who watched the hearings closely were surprisingly lenient with their Republican inquisitors.

“I don’t think she was treated fairly,” said Greg Fleming, 72, a financial adviser in Gary. “But that’s the way things are in this country. In the current climate, unfortunately, that is to be expected.”

Like Indiana’s First, Georgia’s Second District still leans Democratic, but if a candidate can turn out their rural black vote, they have a good chance. For Jeremy Hunt, a black Army veteran and candidate running in the Republican primary to challenge Rep. Sanford Bishop, a longtime Democrat who is also black, the Supreme Court is not part of his calculus.

“We can talk about Republicans versus Democrats, but ultimately that’s not what voters want to hear from us as leaders,” Hunt said. “There’s a huge temptation to go into things nationally and talk about what’s going on, you know, on different levels, but a big part of our campaign is keeping it local.”

Still, when he talks about what’s hurting local farmers and truckers, Hunt said, he invariably comes back to the economy, gas prices and inflation.

Black voters were the most likely to say they were personally falling behind due to inflation, according to the NBC News poll. And that is creating anxieties that Republicans are eager to exploit.

Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, one of two black Republicans in the House, said, “We have rich black people. We have rich white people. We have poor blacks. We have poor white people. If you’re poor in the United States, you’re feeling the effects of $4.30 gas. You’re feeling the effects of heating oil prices that are up 60 percent. You’re feeling the shocks from meat, bread and milk, all going up dramatically.”

Donalds said he had watched most of Justice Jackson’s hearings and had seen nothing for Republicans to apologize for.

“They never got into his personal life,” he said. “Not once did they go into his personal history. Not once were his accusations about the character of him.”

With Democrats disappointed and Republicans offering a weak alternative, some black voters said they didn’t know where to turn politically.

In Gary, Fleming said he was concerned about the growing power of the Democratic left. But until more Republicans drop their “conspiracy theories” and extreme comments, he said, they were not much of an option.

“I mean, did they think that everything that happened on January 6 was okay? That’s crazy,” Fleming said. “If a Mitt Romney-type Republican were to run, he could opt for that. But the Republicans are on another planet right now. I can’t even call them far right. They are defying gravity.”

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