Editor’s note: This commentary was written before the vice presidential debate.
Last week, I wrote about how close the presidential race in Florida is between Mitt Romney and Bro. Prez – and that was BEFORE the first debate.
I told you that Barack Obama’s team continues to take Black voters for granted. It continues to run a 2008-style campaign that doesn’t consider the lukewarm enthusiasm of Black Floridians for Bro. Prez, nor the impact of three years of voter suppression laws and activities on the Black electorate here.
I wrote that thousands of Black votes of qualified Floridians won’t be counted because of the campaign’s inattentiveness, and due to its unresponsiveness to a favorable court decision expanding the voter registration process. (Voter registration ended in Florida on Tuesday.)
• As of this writing with four weeks left, the Obama campaign has already spent $49 million to run more than 70,200 TV ads in Florida alone, according to the Washington Post. The tally: $14 million in Tampa; $14 million in Orlando; $9 million in Miami-Fort Lauderdale; $5 million in West Palm Beach; $3 million in Jacksonville; $3 million in Fort Myers/Naples; $635,000 in Gainesville, the home of the University of Florida. To my knowledge, not one dime went to financially support existing third-party community-based voter education or registration efforts.
• The campaign has replicated its 2008 strategy of shutting out existing Black voter registration and get-out-the vote (GOTV) networks in Florida. In 2008, Obama revolutionized American politics via its digital/Internet outreach. The campaign made a strategic decision then to bypass established local Black registration/GOTV networks so it wouldn’t be beholden to local Black political powerbrokers. It depended on paid staff and volunteers – some of whom were bused all over Florida and into inner-city neighborhoods in the days before Election Day 2008.
It’s said that “Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan.” I’m sure Bro. Prez’s people were thinking their revolutionary 2008 digital strategy put in place with paid staff and ‘outside’ volunteers would work again, and Black turnout would approach that of 2008.
I believe they are wrong. They overestimated the impact of the Internet and TV ads on Black voters in Florida. They underestimated the singular historical nature of Obama’s 2008 candidacy (and subsequent win) on the collective psyche of Black America. They’ve underestimated the amount of resources and work necessary to maintain or improve the Black average voter registration rate of 69.7 percent AND the 92.8 percent Black voter turnout of four years ago.
In 2008, Black communities nationwide were motivated to work for Obama for personal and historical reasons, and activated their own existing registrations/GOTV networks without help from Obama’s organization. National Urban League statistics indicate that 185,000 more Black Floridians voted in 2008 as compared to 2004. Can Obama’s campaign apparatus take complete credit for that increase?
I think not. How many of us heard Black senior citizens say in 2008, “I want to vote for a Black president before I die? I want to tell my grandkids I voted for the First Black President.”
Shattering a glass ceiling that was preventing a Black American president from rising to power is a one-time event. And almost every Black person in America helped “throw a rock’’ by registering and casting a single vote.
Fast-forward four years. Bro. Prez is running the same strategy in Florida in a different historical and political environment with reduced historical significance, less Black enthusiasm for his policies, tighter voter registration rules, and a shorter voting period. Had relationships been built with existing local networks in 2008 rather than relying solely on staff and volunteers parachuting into Florida, things may be different now.
Obama didn’t have to choose either a digital/paid staff strategy or a local registration/GOTV strategy; both work together. And you’ve got to invest campaign funds in both, which Bro. Prez has never done in this state.
• The campaign has made a strategic decision to shut out Black-owned media with the exception of Black radio talk shows with national reach. The campaign considers newspapers and radio “old media’’ that they can’t control. How do I know? His top-level campaign folks essentially said so at a National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) convention in Chicago in June 2011. After asking Black newspaper owners to redouble their efforts to “tell the president’s story,” Obama’s folks told us in 2011 that money would be spent in places more “cost-effective” than in Black-owned media.
(Fisticuffs damn near erupted because Black newspapers were “telling the story” before most of America could pronounce “Barack Obama” correctly. We’re good enough to “tell the president’s story” but not good enough to run his paid ads? Yet the campaign spends millions running ads on Fox News?)
The Florida Courier is an award-winning, circulation-audited newspaper with statewide reach and a consistently updated website and social media platform. We are no “fish wrapper.’’
There are Black-owned newspapers in almost every nook and cranny in Florida. There are Black-owned radio stations in Miami-Dade, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Orlando, Daytona, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, and other areas that primarily serve Black listening audiences.
Yet, the Obama campaign treats Black media owners as money-grubbing nuisances. Some of his people see Black newspapers especially as the enemy – akin to Black Tea Partiers – because most of us remain “unbought and unbossed,” in the late U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s immortal words.
They continually underestimate and devalue our hard-won credibility, the quality of what we do, and the intimate connections built over decades in the communities we cover and live in.
At the same fiery June 2011 NNPA meeting, the Obama campaign was urged to use Black-owned media statewide starting in March 2012 for voter education with regard to new identification and registration rules, early voting days, and GOTV efforts, especially in Florida and battleground states. The campaign also was urged to invest in existing community-based nonprofits to assist in such efforts. The suggestion was quickly rejected at the meeting. They didn’t even think about it.
Instead, Bro. Prez’s campaign is now making and airing “Big Bird” commercials on the Web to take the sting out of him getting pimp-slapped by Romney during the first debate. Black-owned media have not been paid one dime of the $49 million in advertising Obama has spent in Florida. Thus far, he has yet to speak directly to Florida’s Black voters.
• Bro. Prez’s people have been warned – often. Back when you could beat a kid without going to jail, Mama ’nem said, “A hard head means a soft behind.” That’s true –even in politics.
Next week: If there’s a Democratic Party in Florida, let me know.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org; holler at me at www.facebook.com/ccherry2; follow me on Twitter @ccherry2.