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House Democrats' Campaign Committee Launches Blitz Targeting Black Voters

Russ Bynum

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching a seven-figure advertising investment aimed at mobilizing Black voters — with a particular eye toward Black men — across nearly a dozen states, a strategic move by House Democrats' campaign committee to further energize the key demographic as the election season heads into its final weeks.

The advertisements — a mix of radio, print, digital and mail — are being deployed across targeted congressional districts in Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

The investment, shared first with NPR, comes as the campaigns of both President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have focused intently on Black male voters, who were a sizeable part of the difference between the record-setting levels of Black turnout that former President Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012, compared with the performance of Hillary Clinton in 2016.

According to the Pew Research Center, 64% of eligible Black women and 54% of eligible Black men voted in 2016.

Cornell Belcher, who was a pollster for Obama and has worked with the DCCC, said that there was a "dramatic" drop-off among Black men from 2012 to 2016. But Belcher said that presents Democrats with an opportunity to reconnect and reengage.

"If [Black men are] sitting on the sidelines thinking that their vote doesn't matter, they don't have the power to make a difference, they're going to stay on the sidelines," said Belcher. "What we unpacked in the DCCC's research, and you can see it in the DCCC's messaging right now is giving them a sense of power that they can in fact bring about change and then connecting that change, that power to an affirmative vote for Democrats."

This year, Democrats have explicitly and repeatedly urged Americans to channel their frustrations at a convergence of crises — the coronavirus pandemic which has killed more than 200,000, the economic downturn and the unrest surrounding race and justice — into voting. The new ads seek to portray what Democrats have to offer to Black voters, some of whom may be lukewarm about the Democratic Party or candidates on the ballot.

"We've raised our voices. We've marched for justice. We've come so far. But to make this moment count, our power must be felt. And our votes are that power," a Black male narrator saysin a radio ad. He later notes that while congressional Democrats are "ready to pass our agenda," Republicans "are blocking it" and "even trying to block our votes."

One of the print ads makes direct references to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police, noting that "his tragic death finally woke up the country."

"What we do now is up to us," the ad states. In the accompanying imagery, a Black man cradles a young girl in his arms.

"This cycle, we began communicating with Black voters earlier than ever before and this added investment is a critical part of our closing argument that House Democrats are here to fight with and advocate on issues important to Black Americans," Rep. Cheri Bustos, who is House Democrats' campaign chief, said in a statement.

Aides to Trump's campaign have suggested in recent days that the president has increased his support among Black voters since 2016, and that that support is a key part of Trump's path to a second term — and one that could foreclose the nomination for Biden. On the campaign trail, Trump has made explicit appeals to Black voters, especially Black men. He routinely touts low unemployment rates among Black people before the pandemic, and says the Democratic Party takes them for granted.

Belcher and other pollsters and analysts who have done research on Black voters say that they believe Biden will win an overwhelming majority of Black voters.

"Democrats are in fact doing what they need to do here, that is not take this vote for granted but actually treat this vote as a persuasion target that they have to make a persuasive case for their support," Belcher said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.