Paul’s latest gambit, as you may have seen, involves an appeal to black voters, who generally have about as much attachment to the Republican Party as Donald Sterling has to his wife. This unusual courtship, which included a speech to the Urban League in which Paul actually quoted Malcolm X, led to a spate of media stories in the past week about a new contest between the parties to win over black voters in closely divided states.
All of which raises a couple of questions. First, do Democrats really have anything to worry about when it comes to the African-American vote? And second, is Paul really trying to steal those voters away?
The answers are yes and no, for more complex reasons than most of the analysis would have you believe.
Let’s first consider this issue of whether Democrats could be considered vulnerable when it comes to the black vote. On the surface, the suggestion seems pretty absurd.
In any given election, after all, a Democrat can expect to corral something like 9 out of 10 votes cast by African-Americans. That’s an outrageous percentage when you’re talking about anything competitive in American life. I mean, if Apple had 90 percent of the phone or tablet market locked up, would anyone be jittery about the stock price?
The problem for Democrats is that their formula for success isn’t like Apple’s or any other company’s, for that matter. It’s more precarious than recent elections would suggest, and it relies on some highly unreliable trends. …The spike among African-Americans almost certainly belonged to Obama personally and not to them; the party’s otherworldly percentages in 2008 and 2012 were always going to return to being merely overwhelming after Obama left the scene. (The same thing is probably true, by the way, for Obama’s historic turnout numbers among young voters.)
What this means for future Democratic candidates — even with other demographic trends working in their favor — is that the party is still reliant on a level of black support that might well prove unsustainable. Any Republican candidate who can muster 15 percent of the black vote can fundamentally shift the electoral math in a handful of the most competitive states.
This leads us to the second question, which is whether Paul seriously aspires to become that candidate. …
Paul is nothing if not sharp, and he knows that pendulums always swing in party politics. Despite all the extremist rhetoric of the tea party crowd, there will be a hunger among Republican voters in 2016 to somehow recalibrate and mainstream the party — just as there was in 2000, when George W. Bush and John McCain battled over who was the more inclusive and reform-minded candidate. …
None of us knows, of course, just where Paul or the primary electorate will be by the end of 2015. But if you ask me, he’s headed in the right direction for the coming Republican moment. If nothing else, black voters and Rand Paul have this much in common: You’d be ill-advised to take either of them for granted.
(Photo courtesy of David Salafia, via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)
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