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How black voters boosted Doug Jones to a win in Alabama

In the closing days of Alabama's rancorous special US Senate election between Doug Jones and Roy Moore, a procession ...

Posted: Dec 14, 2017 12:18 PM
Updated: Dec 14, 2017 12:18 PM

In the closing days of Alabama's rancorous special US Senate election between Doug Jones and Roy Moore, a procession of black politicians and celebrities descended on the state.

Jones, a Democrat, stood shoulder to shoulder with Democratic former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama at a historic church in Selma where more than 50 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began his famous march to Montgomery. Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey rallied voters for Jones at Alabama State University, a historically black institution in Montgomery, and Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, hit the Birmingham radio airwaves.

There were appearances by the basketball star Charles Barkley and "Orange is the New Black" actor Uzo Aduba. Former President Barack Obama weighed in with a robocall.

"This one's serious," Obama said in the call, intended to specifically reach black voters. "You can't sit it out."

The message was apparently received.

Black voters played a pivotal role in Jones' upset win over Moore on Tuesday. According to CNN's exit polling, 29% of the Alabama electorate was made up of black voters, and 96% of those voters backed Jones. Black voters turned out for the special election at a higher level than their share of the electorate when Obama was on the ballot in 2008 and 2012. What's more, a nearly unanimous 98% of black women backed Jones over Moore.

And African-American Democrats say they've hit on a playbook for 2018: Empower -- and trust -- local leaders, engage voters early and often, and provide resources to activists, particularly black women, who keep the effort going far beyond Election Day.

"The secret is out. It's perhaps been a secret too long, and that is that the secret success of African-American political influence has been and continues to be the work and fidelity to the cause by black women," Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN. "The numbers from Alabama opened the door, and now the world can see what has empowered the progress that African-Americans have made since 1965."

What worked

Operatives and activists who worked to mobilize black voters ahead of Tuesday's election say their success came from a patchwork effort that included resources from the national Democratic Party and super PACs, with leadership by local politicians and community stakeholders. Part of that effort, according to DeJuana Thompson, who founded the Alabama-focused Woke Vote, is starting early and staying engaged.

Thompson said she began to have conversations about getting out the black vote in June or July.

"I started thinking about it the moment when [Jeff Sessions] became the attorney general," she told TV One's Roland Martin, which left the Senate seat vacant. "That was the time that we started organizing resources. We knew we could not wait on the Democratic Party. We knew we could not wait on the campaign itself, so we started talking to the donors about putting money into an independent black political structure that could move bodies."

The Collective PAC, which traditionally supports African-American candidates, gave $50,000 to boost Jones, according to Stefanie Brown James, who launched the PAC with her husband in 2016. The Collective PAC pushed radio ads that leveraged the star power of black celebrities including Spike Lee and Jenifer Lewis, and the group says it sent nearly 300,000 text messages encouraging black voters to go to the polls.

"This was definitely a departure for us," James told CNN in an interview. "We're definitely committed to supporting black candidates specifically."

The group backed Jones, James said Wednesday, because the election created a situation "where black people can decide if the next senator from the state is going to be a person who is in the tradition of George Wallace or who literally stood against the [Ku Klux] Klan to bring justice to all of black America."

"This vote was extremely important, not just for Alabama, but for black people to show ourselves that yes, our vote is meaningful and it is powerful, but it has to be used for us to show our value," she said. "We had to speak up in this race."

New role for DNC?

Future efforts also could mean a changing role for the Democratic National Committee.

While many of the ground efforts in Alabama were spearheaded by local activists, the DNC quietly spent nearly $1 million on Jones' Senate campaign, according to a party aide, focused largely on outreach to the African-American and faith-based communities, as well as young voters. All three groups were pivotal in ensuring the committee invested in placing influencers in key areas: Northern Alabama, the "black belt" and Jefferson County, communities with high concentrations of African-Americans.

Bakari Sellers, a former Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in South Carolina and a CNN political commentator who campaigned for Jones, said that historically the Democratic Party and candidates engaged with and mobilized for the black vote only around Election Day.

"You know, I think it was Leah Daughtry who said it best. She was talking about I don't mind being asked to the prom, but give me more than an hour -- being asked to the dance, give me more than an hour to get dressed," Sellers said of the 2008 and 2016 Democratic convention CEO. "It seemed as if the Democratic Party was hustling at the last minute, because they took our votes for granted. They just expected us to be there. What this race showed us: One, you have to have a connection with African-American voters."

Some Democrats say the party proved in Alabama that it is turning a corner and is more effectively courting the black vote.

"For one of the very few times in history, they listened to black people who knew how to get black people out to vote," said Cleaver, the Missouri Democrat. "I know that sounds weird, but one of the arguments that we've had around the Democratic Party for a long long time -- even to the point where some Democrats said maybe we're not wanted in this party -- has finally reached the ears of some people who will accept the fact that black people know black people."

Waikinya Clanton, the DNC's director of African-American outreach, told CNN that the DNC's chairman had a call with black leaders in Alabama to formulate the best outreach strategy. "They told him what was needed," she said.

"What worked well was entrusting people from the community that the community recognized and resonated with," Clanton told CNN. "They served as validators."

Jones touted his connections and outreach Wednesday.

"I've been around for a long time," Jones told reporters. "Those leaders knew me and they knew my background and they knew they would have a partner in the United States Senate. They felt like they haven't had one for a while except for Congresswoman Terri Sewell."

Sewell, the lone Democratic member of Alabama's congressional delegation, as well as members of the Congressional Black Caucus and black mayors, worked with the DNC, -Amanda Brown Lierman, the committee's political director, told CNN.

She also stressed the importance of meeting people where they're at, online and offline, and said the committee was able to get 85,000 more black registrants into the voter file for get out the vote programming before the Alabama special election.

Deep pocketed outside groups also worked -- and spent heavily -- to mobilize Alabama's African-American voters to the polls. Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA Action, two of the largest Democratic super PACs, partnered on a $1.5 million digital advertising campaign that the groups say reached 1.4 million Alabama voters. One million dollars of that ad campaign, according to a source, was specifically dedicated to mobilizing the black vote.

In the hours following Jones' stunning victory, Twitter was filled with messages of thanks for black women, including from DNC Chairman Tom Perez -- who added his gratitude for the work of black women in boosting Democrat Ralph Northam over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia's gubernatorial race.

"Let me be clear: We won in Alabama and Virginia because#BlackWomen led us to victory," Perez tweeted. "Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and we can't take that for granted. Period."

James, The Collective PAC's founder, said, though, that there needs to be one more step.

"Even today, everyone is congratulating black women for once again saving the day," she told CNN. "But now we need to get to the point where we're going past congratulations and moving to contributions that will actually support black women and black organizations and black people that are working to turn our communities out to vote."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 703345

Reported Deaths: 13194
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion959691716
Lake51222940
Allen38926670
Hamilton34288404
St. Joseph33770539
Elkhart27117431
Vanderburgh22034393
Tippecanoe21671212
Johnson17451374
Porter17206297
Hendricks16735310
Clark12657190
Madison12302337
Vigo12155244
Monroe11385166
LaPorte10800204
Delaware10312184
Howard9617211
Kosciusko9068113
Hancock7939139
Bartholomew7854153
Warrick7675155
Floyd7542176
Wayne6880198
Grant6773170
Boone6524100
Morgan6370138
Dubois6071117
Marshall5753108
Dearborn568075
Cass5671102
Henry5563100
Noble537983
Jackson492369
Shelby477795
Lawrence4332118
Gibson427389
Harrison426570
Montgomery416486
Clinton416053
DeKalb406684
Huntington376980
Whitley375539
Miami371465
Knox365389
Steuben362657
Putnam351960
Wabash346677
Jasper346146
Adams337652
Ripley333368
Jefferson311579
White307354
Daviess288899
Wells285180
Decatur278592
Fayette277062
Greene270385
Posey268333
Scott260553
Clay252244
LaGrange251470
Randolph234480
Washington230431
Spencer227431
Jennings224647
Fountain207745
Sullivan207342
Starke201952
Owen191856
Fulton190839
Carroll185620
Jay185529
Perry179536
Orange176553
Rush170324
Vermillion165743
Franklin165435
Tipton160943
Parke143816
Blackford132831
Pike130134
Pulaski113145
Newton102934
Brown99640
Crawford97014
Benton96213
Martin82415
Warren78915
Switzerland7698
Union69610
Ohio55511
Unassigned0405

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1048109

Reported Deaths: 18917
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1217031352
Cuyahoga1063982060
Hamilton779451165
Montgomery49883989
Summit45144907
Lucas39826760
Butler37638568
Stark31348894
Lorain24090472
Warren23835291
Mahoning20822583
Lake19915362
Clermont19397228
Delaware17972130
Licking16089206
Fairfield15646196
Trumbull15521459
Medina14815259
Greene14613236
Clark13576288
Wood12709184
Portage12313194
Allen11303229
Richland11017198
Miami10511212
Muskingum8688127
Wayne8543209
Columbiana8527226
Pickaway8421120
Marion8360135
Tuscarawas8359239
Erie7540153
Ross6692145
Hancock6683123
Geauga6527146
Ashtabula6458164
Scioto6280100
Belmont5591158
Union556247
Lawrence5458102
Jefferson5283147
Huron5270113
Darke5264121
Sandusky5164119
Seneca5093118
Washington5074107
Athens499454
Auglaize474884
Mercer470384
Shelby455089
Knox4371108
Madison421058
Putnam420298
Ashland412086
Fulton407966
Defiance399996
Crawford3858100
Brown385555
Logan372276
Preble369598
Clinton359659
Ottawa355478
Highland346059
Williams323274
Champaign318556
Jackson306951
Guernsey305848
Perry289349
Fayette276948
Morrow274439
Hardin263563
Henry263166
Coshocton258257
Holmes252699
Van Wert238662
Gallia233246
Pike232431
Adams227552
Wyandot226353
Hocking208958
Carroll188947
Paulding168538
Meigs141438
Noble132737
Monroe128841
Morgan106423
Harrison105336
Vinton81414
Unassigned02
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