African-American candidates in Deep South look to seize the moment

By Beatriz Pascual Macías

Washington, May 16 (EFE).- The United States will elect new members of Congress in November and, just by looking at the campaigns, one thing is certain: the country’s Deep South is going through a revolution of sorts, with a record number of African-American candidates in with a better chance of winning than ever before.

What’s more, these candidates – who are all among the ranks of the Democratic Party – have set out to steal a major Republican stronghold by mobilizing voters who have never gone to the polls before.

But to compete in the November elections, they must still win the primaries that start this month in Deep South states such as Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia, whose histories are tainted by slavery and segregation.

Charles Booker, who made history in 2019 as Kentucky’s youngest state legislator, is now a favorite to win the Democratic primary on Tuesday and face Republican Rand Paul, who has been in the Senate since 2011, in November.

To defeat Paul, Booker wants to build a coalition of African-American and white voters from rural and urban areas who, despite their differences, have one important thing in common: poverty, an issue that affects 18.3% of Kentucky’s population, especially children under the age of five.

“”This is (…) a campaign that’s focused on ending poverty, that is focused on bringing people together, lifting up folks in the forgotten places,” Booker, 37, tells Efe.

His rallying cry is “From the hood to the holler!”, an expression without exact translation that evokes at once the image of the “hood”, the impoverished, urban African-American neighborhoods across the country, and the “holler”, the rural valleys that are home to white families living in trailer parks, struggling to survive.

Booker himself grew up in one of Louisville’s poorest neighborhoods; he and his mother were homeless on several occasions, and he knows how many families – black and white – struggle to pay their bills.

“I’m a type one diabetic. I take two types of insulin every day to stay alive, and I’ve had to ration that to have enough money to feed my daughters. That’s not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue,” Booker said.

“When we’re talking about things people are actually dealing with, those partisan divides really fall away.”

Booker tries to stay clear of ideologies, and claims that some of the 15,000 volunteers working for his campaign are Donald Trump voters who are also fed up with the status quo.

Republicans, however, have portrayed Booker as a “radical” because of his support for progressive proposals like a “Green New Deal” to fight climate change and which is particularly controversial in Kentucky, the nation’s fourth-largest coal producer.

Kentucky is, after all, a Republican stronghold: Trump beat Democrat Joe Biden by 26 points in 2020 and the state hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992.

Booker, however, believes that convincing the 40% of the population that doesn’t vote to turn out will be key.

It’s the same strategy being used in Georgia by Stacy Abrams, who lost the 2018 gubernatorial election but got 200,000 people to vote for the first time, an accomplishment earned after years of grassroots work with marginalized communities.

Abrams, who is running for governor of Georgia again this year, believes the Democrats would win more elections in the US South if it focused on mobilizing first-time voters of color, rather than trying to persuade undecided, middle-class and white voters.

Those tactics have rubbed off on other candidates such as Raphael Warnock, an African-American pastor who won the Senate from Georgia in 2020 and is now running for re-election.

The result of this new political momentum is a large number of African-American candidates who in some cases have a chance of winning for the first time, Mark Rozell, the dean of the School of Politics at George Mason University in Virginia, told Efe.

In 2020, more African-American candidates ran for the Senate than at any other time in the last 150 years.

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