The Rev. Alvin Herring speaks during a demonstration calling for increased funding for public schools, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
For the Rev. Alvin Herring, executive director of the congregation-based organizing network Faith in Action, wearing a clerical collar is about more than appearances. It prepares him for the task of making social change.
“I consider this my uniform,” Herring said, gesturing toward his white-collar as he addressed the crowd at the Vote Common Good summit in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this month. “When I’m ready to go to work or go to war, I put this on.”
Specifically, Herring, a pastor from California, says he and his organization are gearing up for work and war — metaphorically speaking — ahead of the 2020 election. Through partnerships with groups such as VCG and a series of organizing initiatives, Herring and Faith in Action — one of the largest faith-based liberal-leaning groups in the country — are hoping to prove that people of faith can make an impact come Election Day.
Or, as Herring later told Religion News Service: “The progressive community has to get it straight: Faith matters.”
Faith in Action, previously known as PICO National Network, is hardly new to the art of national organizing. The multifaith, multiracial group boasts 45 member organizations spread across 200 cities and towns in 25 states. Each organization claims the membership of multiple worship communities of various sizes dedicated to advocating for certain policies and legislation.
The group tries to avoid political labels, but Herring acknowledged in an interview with RNS that the positions his group advocates for often lean away from the current Republican Party.
“Our everyday work is about fighting for immigrant justice,” he said. “Our everyday work is about returning to citizens the right to vote and the right of personhood. … Our everyday work is with young people who are saddled under the significant and heavy weight of education debt and a lack of economic mobility.”
Faith in Action has mustered robust campaigns in the past. Recent efforts include rallying faith groups behind prison reform in California and equitable funding for public education in Pennsylvania. They often tie their campaigns to bigger elections: According to Herring, Faith in Action teams contacted roughly 800,000 voters ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
But this year they’re hoping to ramp up efforts to maximize their impact. For example, Faith in Action is now pushing to have 1 million conversations with voters before November.
The group has also forged partnerships with national-level organizations that Herring described as being part of an “ecosystem” of change. This includes the W.K. Kellogg Foundation — where Herring previously worked as the director for racial equity and community engagement — which in turn partners with the NAACP, Urban League, UnidosUS, National Congress of American Indians, Demos, Advancement Project, Race Forward and the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum.
A Faith in Action spokesperson described the partnership as designed to “promote racial equity, advance racial healing and ensure that all children, families and communities have genuine opportunities to reach their full potential.”
Faith in Action also has a separate relationship with VCG, a new group led by progressive evangelical Christians that helps train Democratic candidates to engage with faith and offers outreach to liberal-leaning religious voters. The two organizations have entered into a formal memorandum of understanding, allowing VCG to benefit from Faith in Action’s network of worship communities.
VCG executive director Doug Pagitt told the crowd in Des Moines that Faith in Action will bolster his organization’s ongoing bus tour across the country.
“Oftentimes, when we go into a state or a city, we will tie into that (Faith in Action) network,” Pagitt said. “It’s a great gift.”
But Herring argued the real goal is to effect local politics. Instead of focusing solely on the presidential election, he said, Faith in Action plans to target sheriff’s races across the country — particularly in the South — because the position is “one of the most powerful” when it comes to impacting the lives of marginalized communities. They hope their member communities will push for candidates who will institute more liberal approaches to policing, incarceration and gun violence.
Faith in Action is also launching a “Setting the Captives Free” initiative — a reference to the Book of Exodus — that strives to push back against policies such as voter ID laws that Herring argued disproportionately disenfranchise people of color.
Organizers plan to discuss these and other issues at Faith in Action’s National Faith Forum Feb. 12-14. According to the event flier, leaders will gather in Las Vegas to discuss strategy, unveil a “People’s Platform” and dialogue with 2020 candidates and their policy staffs.
It’s unclear how well Faith in Action’s approach will work. Despite its size, the group’s hyperlocalized structure can make progress difficult to track, and Herring did not offer many specifics as to how the campaigns will be implemented at the local level.
But he said he is confident the efforts will have some impact on the lives of everyday Americans, a shift he hopes will send a message to more secular-minded liberals.
“I would say one other thing to the progressive community: It will have to come off the fence,” he told RNS. “It can’t have a deep aversion for faith on the right and a lack of commitment for faith in other places. It’s not enough to decry those who stand with an administration that is literally trying to suck the lives out of everyday working people, and yet say nothing about those hardworking men and women of faith who are every day in the streets, every day in the soup kitchens, every day in clothes pantries, every day in the voting booth — voting their faith principles and their faith guidelines.”
President Donald Trump’s aggressive trade brinksmanship has split the American economy into new castes of winners and losers, with few consistent criteria defining who ends up in which group — as illustrated by the $2 billion in products that won exemptions last week from a new round of China tariffs.
Bibles and other religious texts got a pass after U.S. publishers and Christian groups argued that tariffs would infringe upon the freedom to worship around the globe.
Salmon and cod — caught in Alaska and processed in China — won an exemption after the state’s Republican senators successfully argued that tariffs would pose an “economic security” risk to Alaska’s fishing industry.
Chemicals used in fracking escaped tariffs after the oil and gas industry argued that taxing them would threaten America’s “energy dominance.”
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative carved out those products from an original list of $300 billion based on what it called “health, safety, national security and other factors.” About half of the original list was delayed until December in order to get past the holiday season, but after that, importers will pay 10% of the value of whatever they bring in from China.
Although the companies that won relief may not be markedly different than the interests favored by other Republican administrations, this cycle of tariffs and exemptions is happening faster and at a larger scale than any remotely similar exercise in the past, giving far more companies reason to protest.
Take religious texts like the Bible and the Quran, which were the only kind of publication exempted by trade regulators. Other written works, from pulp fiction to textbooks, were denied clemency.
In the weeks following USTR’s announcement of a new batch of tariffs ostensibly justified by China’s violation of intellectual property law — this one covering a huge swath of finished goods, since duties had already been assessed on most kinds of intermediate materials — Christian publishers and religious groups made their case for a reprieve.
In letters and testimony, they argued that China had become America’s primary source of Bibles because of its unparalleled proficiency in printing the 800,000-word text, which requires thinner paper and often more ornate, hand-stitched bindings. The U.S. imported almost $140 million worth of religious texts in 2018, 67.3% of which came from China, according to Panjiva, the supply-chain research unit at S&P Global Market Intelligence, a commodities data provider. The world’s largest producer of Bibles, China’s Amity Printing, said it produced 14.15 million copies in 2017.
Those volumes are already more expensive than the average beach read. Biblica, a nonprofit that gives Bibles away around the world, testified that a tariff on religious books would “dramatically affect” the number of Bibles it was able to donate, “impacting the religious freedom of individuals in countries where Bible access is limited and often nonexistent.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the 15.2 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, wrote that a tariff on Bibles would require “higher prices incompatible with the high and consistent demand for Bibles in the United States” and affect “all Christians’ ability to exercise their religious freedom in the United States.”
The USTR’s decision wasn’t all good news for churches and religious publishers, however. They produce and consume plenty of religious-themed books that wouldn’t qualify under a strict interpretation of the exemption. Besides, most of them urged a return to the long-standing practice of avoiding burdensome taxation on all publications on First Amendment grounds.
“All books should really be exempt, because that’s been the tradition of the United States,” said Stan Jantz, executive director of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. “It was never an intention to only be the Bibles. If anything, I would hope the Bible would help them open up and see the value of all books.”
That was also the hope of independent publishers and bookstores, which already operate on thin margins. Dan Reynolds, CEO of Workman Publishing, which has several nonfiction imprints as well as a line of children’s books, says the focus on Bibles was part of a conscious approach.
“We strategized when this started to happen about which parts of our business would get the attention of the administration, as well as which products that are reliant on Chinese production, with the hope that by making our case with Bibles and children’s books primarily, that that would make all books exempted,” Reynolds said in an interview. “So we’re partially victorious, but it didn’t help all the other categories.”
The tariffs for children’s books were pushed to December, but Reynolds isn’t sure what his company will do after that. Chinese printers are especially good at producing affordable children’s books with all kinds of bells and whistles, like pop-ups and textures. The fixed budgets of schools and libraries won’t expand to pay for tariffs, so Reynolds said he’ll probably sell fewer books. And if he has to move production out of China, he said, he’ll keep costs down by dialing back some of the fun features.
The situation is perhaps more difficult for small bookstores, which don’t have the cash on hand — or the space — to stock up on inventory before the year-end holidays. Jamie Fiocco, president of the American Booksellers Association and owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is resigned to the fact that religious works were protected while others were not.
“I think it’s a statement about the environment we’re working in these days,” Fiocco said.
Books aren’t the only product where the USTR has had to make tough choices about which industries to favor and which to leave hanging. (The agency did not respond to a request for further explanation of why it exempted the products it did.)
The roughly two dozen product categories that escaped tariffs included frozen cod, salmon and haddock, which are often harvested in Alaska and sent to China for processing into fillets and nuggets that are sold in grocery stores and restaurants. A tariff on those reimports would have hurt the fishing industry. Under pressure from Alaska’s congressional delegation, they had been dropped from previous rounds of duties but ended up included again in the fourth batch, which meant having the argument all over again.
A joint letter from Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young referred to their “many discussions” with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and it warned him that failing to exempt salmon and cod would carry consequences. “You risk losing critical congressional support if your actions end up having the result of targeting and harming some of the very Americans we know you want to help,” they wrote.
In response to a question about what seafood tariffs had to do with health, safety or national security, Murkowski spokeswoman Hannah Ray highlighted the part of the USTR notice that said “other factors” could come into play.
“Beyond those explicitly listed, there are additional factors that USTR could consider in deciding to remove items from its final list,” Ray wrote. “This administration broadly interprets ‘national security’ to include domestic economic security. Senator Murkowski shares the administration’s desire to ensure fair and reciprocal trade.”
The lawmakers weren’t against all fish tariffs, however. They advocated for continuing to include pollock, a divisive issue in the seafood industry. There are more American companies that process pollock and also more Russian pollock that comes into the U.S. after processing in China, creating a stronger domestic lobby for taxing imports. But resellers and restaurant chains complain that all tariffs make food more expensive — in this case, pollock fish fingers.
“Compared to the range of outcomes that we could’ve had, it’s certainly better, but it’s still overall a very poor outcome in my opinion,” said Matt Fass, president of the Williamsburg, Virginia-based distributor Maritime Products International. “A couple of the species have been exempted, which is a good thing. The largest volume species has not been — that’s pollock. … Everything is immediately higher priced when the tariffs hit.”
Beyond fish and Bibles, USTR also spared several types of minerals with defense applications that would meet the “national security” criterion.
That’s also convenient for American industrial conglomerates. For example, zirconium goes into nuclear fuel rods used in the Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers, according to testimony from Allegheny Technologies and BWX Technologies, which supply zirconium to the military. But it’s also used for civilian airplanes built by aerospace companies.
Other exempted products seem to only be priorities for powerful industries. Aluminum oxide, for example, is critical for steel manufacturers, who had been protected by earlier rounds of tariffs on imported steel but could have been hurt by subsequent duties on chemicals they need in order to produce domestic steel. Various forms of barium are used as a stabilizing additive to fracking fluids, and companies including the oil field services firm Halliburton testified that using alternative products would decrease drilling productivity. Fifty-three-foot shipping containers are essential for trucking and rail transportation, and big companies like J.B Hunt and CSX said that tariffing them would make all kinds of freight shipments more expensive.
No industry, however, got everything that it wanted in the exemptions. Take the juvenile products industry: Child car seats were waved through, but cribs and baby gates stayed on the list. Or oil and gas: Despite the reprieve on barium, tariffs remain in place on more than 100 industrial components used in both offshore and surface drilling, and the steel tariffs have pushed costs higher on everything.
“U.S. energy leadership and global competitiveness are also threatened by the ongoing trade dispute with China as U.S. natural gas and oil exports serve as targets for retaliation,” a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute said in an emailed statement.
And of course, all of this could change in a flash. Previously exempted categories could be put on yet another list, as several were in this latest round, leaving business heads spinning.
“It just has gone so quickly, and it’s so volatile,” said Angela Bole, CEO of the Independent Book Publishers Association. “Everything was thrown in. It was like dropping a house on a fly.”
It’s no secret that the Democratic Party cannot win national elections without the black vote. Less well understood by major Democratic candidates and donors is that black voters are not a monolith. Particularly in the black church, we fall along a wide spectrum of conservative and liberal social values. Our intersections related to race and gender are complex and nuanced.
When black people say that they are tired of our votes being taken for granted, we are referring in part to this lack of understanding. Gaining our vote requires gaining more than a cursory understanding of who we are as a people. Candidates will need to be able to speak to a full range of issues and concerns and, just as importantly, feel comfortable engaging directly with a range of African American people.
Three years ago, the Black Church PAC was formed to give our historically critical voting demographic a greater voice before we go to the polls. On Friday and Saturday (Aug. 16 and 17), the PAC held its first candidate forum, with an audience of 5,000 African American Christian millennials from 42 different states at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta.
Seven of the top-tier candidates were invited, and five attended: Secretary Julian Castro, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the Black Church PAC forum during the Young Leaders Conference on Aug. 17, 2019, in Atlanta. Video screengrab
The forum not only gave candidates an opportunity to make their case for why black voters should entrust them with their vote; it tested the candidates’ ability to connect with young black churchgoers who lean in a socially conservative direction — a voting bloc that is not necessarily well acquainted with long-established Democratic politicians and that has not necessarily bought in to the traditional progressive talking points.
Candidates got a chance to address the full conference but also met with small groups of voters and engaged in spirited dialogue about critical issues ranging from gun violence and the criminal justice system to student loan debt, immigration, education, health care and reparations. These sessions tested candidates’ expertise on critical issues but also revealed how comfortable they were listening to and being challenged by those with experiences very different from their own.
During the meeting, we ran a survey of close to 800 conference attendees to gauge their opinions about the candidates and issues, in addition to gathering qualitative responses. We plan to have a briefing with candidates to share these results before we make them public, but some quick takeaways include:
Candidates who attended experienced a significant bump in their support; candidates who didn’t experienced a significant drop in their support.
Close to 10% of respondents are unfamiliar with the candidates who were listed.
The most important issues among those to take the survey: jobs/economy, gun violence, white nationalism.
A critical finding here is that most candidates have simply not broken through to young African American voters. This is alarming because, if this vital demographic is not actively engaged in selecting the eventual nominee, Democrats may end up with a nominee who fails to engage a significant voting bloc in the general election.
Sen. Cory Booker addresses the first day of the Black Church PAC presidential candidate forum at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta on Aug. 16, 2019. Video screengrab
Compounding this problem is the fact that Democrats have a miserable record of investing in black grassroots organizers, black community-based organizations and black political consultants, who are often best equipped to mobilize black voters.
Steve Phillips, the civil rights lawyer and founder of the website Democracy in Color, has described at great length the billion-dollar blunders Democratic and Allied Progressive groups continue to make in their political spending. The lessons to take from these unforced errors, he has said, are clear: Political spending in the Democratic ecosystem must be early, often and targeted to groups who register; and we must educate and mobilize black and brown voters, especially for turnout on Election Day.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, left, takes questions from moderators the Rev. Leah Daughtry and the Rev. Michael McBride during the Black Church PAC forum at the Young Leaders Conference on Aug. 17, 2019, in Atlanta. Video screengrab
The same kind of results could be achieved in swing states throughout the country if, rather than centering their campaigns around convincing white “Reagan Democrats” to stay blue, candidates doubled down on turning out reliably blue African American voters in places like Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia.
We suspect that when candidates and their teams forgo this approach, it is because they do not have either the cultural proficiency or the willingness to make the black grassroots investments required to pull off this type of strategy. No one expects large numbers of blacks to vote for President Trump; however, operating as if African American and other voters will come out in droves simply to vote against Trump — without giving them someone who is compelling to vote for — is a risky and reckless approach.
Even within the more conservative bloc of the black church, Trump’s message is repulsive to millennials and their black elders. Unlike white evangelicals, whose support for Trump still hovers above 80%, socially conservative-leaning black church members detected very clearly the racialized rhetoric and dangerous policies of Trump and overwhelmingly do not support him. With meaningful engagement, these voters can be activated to vote for a candidate who promotes a compelling vision of belonging, justice and opportunity for all.
Through this election cycle and beyond, we will continue to give candidates opportunities to make their case and truly listen to black voters.
Presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg addresses the first day of the Black Church PAC presidential candidate forum at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta on Aug. 16, 2019. Video screengrab
(The Rev. Michael McBride is pastor of The Way Church in Berkeley, California, and national director of Faith in Action’s urban strategies and LIVE FREE Project. The Rev. Leah Daughtry, former CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, is presiding prelate-elect of The House of the Lord Churches and a founding board member of the Black Church PAC. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker meets with people at an event at the True Love Missionary Baptist Church, Saturday, April 20, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
When 10 Democratic presidential candidates were pressed on immigration policy during their recent debate, Pete Buttigieg took his answer in an unexpected direction: He turned the question into a matter of faith.
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, accused Republicans who claim to support Christian values of hypocrisy for backing policies separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The GOP, he declared, “has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”
It was a striking moment that highlighted an evolution in the way Democrats are talking about faith in the 2020 campaign. While Republicans have been more inclined to weave faith into their rhetoric, particularly since the rise of the evangelical right in the 1980s, several current Democratic White House hopefuls are explicitly linking their views on policy to religious values. The shift signals a belief that their party’s eventual nominee has a chance to win over some religious voters who may be turned off by President Donald Trump’s abrasive rhetoric and questions about his character.
“The bar for Democrats on reaching broad swaths of the American faith community is lower than ever because of Donald Trump,” said Michael Wear, who led White House faith outreach during President Barack Obama’s first term and re-election. Wear said Democrats have an opportunity to show faith voters they don’t just “have a seat at the table, the values table is our table.”
Buttigieg, an Episcopalian who married his husband in his home church, often invokes his faith on the campaign trail and has tangled over values with Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a practicing Methodist and former Sunday school teacher, recently declared that all of her expansive policy proposals “start with a premise that is about faith” as she cited a favorite biblical verse about Jesus urging care for “the least of these.” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has called Jesus “the center of my life” and excoriates Trump for what he calls “moral vandalism.”
John Carr, founder of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, urged Democrats to focus more on their personal faith and avoid wielding religion as a political weapon.
“When you use faith as a way to go after your adversaries, it sounds more like a tactic and less an expression of who you are,” said Carr, who spent more than two decades as an adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Regardless of Democrats’ changing tactics, Trump and Republicans are all but certain to maintain their grip on one of the most influential religious voting blocs, white evangelicals; 8 in 10 who self-identified with that group voted Republican in the 2018 midterm elections, according to AP’s VoteCast survey. Though Trump rarely discusses his own religious identity and isn’t seen as particularly devout, he’s won the loyalty of many evangelicals through his administration’s successful push for conservative judicial nominees and focus on anti-abortion policies.
Democrats have more appeal, and opportunity, with other religious voters. VoteCast showed Democrats captured half of self-described Catholics and 42% of Protestants in last year’s midterms.
Democrats have long had to walk a tightrope with religious voters, given that their support for abortion and LGBTQ rights is at odds with leaders of several prominent denominations.
The 2020 candidates aren’t shying away from those differences. Warren, for example, opposes the United Methodist Church’s prohibition on same-sex marriages and LGBTQ pastors, which has prompted more progressive congregations to weigh a split .
“Elizabeth believes equal means equal, and that’s true in marriage, in the workplace, and in every place,” spokeswoman Saloni Sharma said.
Instead, they see an opening to talk about religion as a driver of their basic values, not a litmus test. Immigration offers one such opportunity, given that Trump’s detention policies have drawn criticism from leaders of multiple faiths, including some evangelicals.
Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian social justice group Sojourners, described the drowning of a father and his toddler daughter who attempted to cross the border as a test of faith for policymakers. Many devout Latino voters who are being courted to vote Republican next year “believe that’s a religious question,” Wallis said.
The Democratic candidates come from a variety of religious backgrounds and differ in how they speak about faith on the campaign trail.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand identifies as Catholic but regularly attends evangelical services as well as Mass, her campaign said. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke said in a statement to The Associated Press that he was raised attending Catholic Mass, but, “As an adult, I have found a stronger connection with God outside of the church.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speak about their faith less frequently than some of the others. But Sanders — who would be the first Jewish president — recently joined liberal Jewish activists for a picture that identified them as Jews against Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has openly struggled to reconcile his Catholic faith with his party’s more liberal position on abortion. In the 1970s, he said the Supreme Court went “too far” in legalizing abortion nationwide and later said abortion should be legal but not government-funded. He reversed that position only last month under intense pressure from his Democratic opponents, drawing a public reprimand from the archbishop of Philadelphia.
But Biden flouts his church’s hard-line positions against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. “We are all God’s children,” he explained last month at a Human Rights Campaign gala in Ohio.
Booker speaks often about his faith as he campaigns. His home church is Metropolitan Baptist in Newark, New Jersey, and his campaign said he attends services whenever he isn’t traveling to early voting states.
The New Jersey senator generally avoids direct use of religion to criticize the GOP, but he told a South Carolina pastor during a CNN town hall in March that “the Bible talks more about poverty, about greeting the stranger, about being there for the convicted … than it talks about the kind of toxic stuff you often hear the president spewing.”
Associated Press writers Will Weissert, Emily Swanson and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington, Bill Barrow in Atlanta, Nick Riccardi in Denver, and Sara Burnett in Chicago contributed.
Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith’s victory in Mississippi’s Senate election runoff was closer than usual in the GOP-dominated Deep South state. But she still was never really threatened by Democrat Mike Espy in Tuesday’s contest, which brought the state’s long history of racial politics into sharp relief.
Some takeaways as Hyde-Smith, who was initially appointed to succeed former Sen. Thad Cochran, returns to Washington as the first woman elected to represent Mississippi on Capitol Hill:
RACIAL POLITICS STILL DOMINANT
In the end, Hyde-Smith defeated Espy by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent — much closer than the cakewalk many predicted in a reliably red state that President Donald Trump won by 17 points in 2016. The contest was the latest reminder that race remains a potent factor in the region’s polarized partisan politics. Espy was seeking to become Mississippi’s first black senator since Reconstruction.
Ahead of the runoff, a video surfaced of Hyde-Smith praising a supporter by saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” For many black voters, the comment harkened back to the state’s dark past of lynchings during the Jim Crow era. They were galvanized by her remarks and saw their votes as a rejection of racism. Many whites dismissed accusations that Hyde-Smith’s comments were racist.
Her statement was widely seen as a dogwhistle, similar to comments made in Florida by then-Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis, who warned voters not to “monkey up” the election by voting for Andrew Gillum, who lost his bid to become the state’s first black governor. It also echoed comments by President Donald Trump, who cast Gillum as incompetent and Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as unqualified.
STRONG BLACK TURNOUT NOT ENOUGH
Black voters came out for Espy, but it wasn’t enough, given the overall makeup of Mississippi’s electorate and white voters’ overwhelming loyalty to Republicans, even among suburban whites who elsewhere nationally trended toward Democrats in the 2018 midterms.
Espy’s biggest challenge was simply that Mississippi doesn’t have a metro area comparable to Atlanta or Nashville, Tennessee, or Charlotte, North Carolina — growing population centers where white voters are considerably more likely to support Democrats than their counterparts in small towns.
Yet even in Mississippi counties that fit the suburban model — better educated, more affluent — voters stuck with Hyde-Smith. Her 71 percent in Rankin County and 54 percent in Madison County (both outside the Democratic stronghold of Jackson) put her just a few percentage points behind Trump’s 2016 marks in those counties.
That’s a contrast even to other recent Deep South elections.
In Georgia, Abrams lost the governor’s race by just 1.4 percentage points in no small part because she won large suburban counties like Cobb and Gwinnett in metro Atlanta. In Alabama’s 2017 Senate special election, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones capitalized on Republican Roy Moore’s weaknesses not by winning large suburban counties, but by vastly outperforming Democrats’ usual marks.
Espy’s almost 409,000 votes statewide was 84 percent of Hillary Clinton’s vote count against Trump in 2016. By comparison, Jones managed 92 percent of presidential turnout in his Alabama victory. In Georgia, Abrams actually exceeded Clinton’s 2016 mark. If Espy had managed that on Tuesday, he’d have won: Clinton got 485,131 votes. Unofficial returns show Hyde-Smith at 479,365.
SOME AFRICAN-AMERICAN GAINS
Despite the Democratic loss in the state’s marquee race, civil rights groups and grassroots organizers point to down-ballot gains, particularly in judicial contests. High black voter turnout elected two black women to the circuit court in Hinds County, giving the county an all-black bench for the first time ever, including three black women.
The wins mirror gains in Texas, where 19 black women were elected to judgeships earlier this month, and Alabama, where a record nine black women judges were elected in last year’s special election.
Down-ballot candidates and issues also benefitted from high black turnout this midterm cycle in Georgia — where Lucy McBath, a black woman, unseated incumbent Republican Rep. Karen Handel, flipping a seat once held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — and in Florida, where voters supported restoring voting rights to tens of thousands of former felons.
With an increased focus on issues of criminal justice and voting rights, such victories could have more of an impact on voters’ daily lives.
Mississippi isn’t used to having backbencher senators. From 1947 to 2007, the state sent just four senators to Washington. It wasn’t long ago that Mississippi’s Senate team consisted of Cochran as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and Trent Lott as majority leader, both of them specializing in fast-tracking federal money back to their home state.
Now, the senior senator is Roger Wicker, who has been in office since Dec. 31, 2007, but will find himself behind more than a dozen Republican colleagues on the seniority list when Congress convenes in January. Hyde-Smith won’t be at the back of the line — her months as an appointed senator put her ahead of the GOP freshmen just elected in November — but she’s close.
Certainly, Washington is different than in Cochran’s prime, with budget earmarks no longer at the center of every negotiation. But for a small, economically disadvantaged state that’s long depended on federal influence, the 116th Congress will be new territory.
NO PERFECT FORMULA FOR SOUTHERN DEMOCRATS
Democrats have made key gains in recent elections in the South, but there’s no perfect formula for winning statewide.
Espy, a former Cabinet official under President Bill Clinton, ran as a moderate with experience reaching across the aisle. Georgia’s Abrams and Florida’s Gillum ran as unabashed liberals and nearly pulled out wins in governor’s races that would have been historic. Democrats in Alabama and South Carolina nominated white men — relatively young, relatively moderate — for governor.
All of them lost: Abrams and Gillum had narrow margins; Espy ran strong but wasn’t close; Alabama and South Carolina were the usual Republican routs.
The lesson: Candidates matter, but so does the electorate. The three closest races made the case that Democrats shoudn’t cede the South, and that tests of electability shouldn’t be limited to white men.
The next test comes in Georgia, where a Dec. 4 runoff for secretary of state pits Democrat John Barrow, a 63-year-old moderate former congressman, against a little-known Republican state lawmaker. After that, the focus shifts to Louisiana, where Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards will seek re-election in 2019 four years after upsetting his Republican rival, then-Sen. David Vitter.
For the Rev. Alvin Herring, executive director of the congregation-based organizing network Faith in Action, wearing a clerical collar is about more than appearances. It prepares him for the task of making social change.
Marissa Pittman wants to demystify politics for young women of color. She started an organization in Memphis called Pumps and Politics 901 to encourage young women of color to run for office and get involved in every level of the political process.
While Republicans have been more inclined to weave faith into their rhetoric, particularly since the rise of the evangelical right in the 1980s, several current Democratic White House hopefuls are explicitly linking their views on policy to religious values.
The presidential election season is heating up! Black and brown people need to be #woke and on point — voter suppression is real. We’ll keep updating this page with new information as the 2020 presidential election draws nearer.
Last-minute legal decisions, a racist robocall and a protester wearing a giant chicken suit holding a sign that reads “too chicken to debate.” These are the scenes playing out amid the final furious days of the hotly contested and historic race for Georgia governor between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp.
In the final days in one of the nation’s hottest governor’s races, Oprah Winfrey and President Donald Trump, as well as former Presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter and Vice President Mike Pence, are trying to put their imprint on the Georgia election.
In an era defined by deep political partisanship, there’s perhaps no state where the divide runs deeper than Florida, which is in the grip of a fierce culture clash over guns, race, climate change and the president.
Civil rights organizations have filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, accusing his office of preventing minority voters from registering ahead of next month’s closely watched race.
Voters in this very liberal, very white state made Kiah Morris a pioneer when in 2014 they elected her as its first black female legislator. Two years later, another Vermont surfaced: racist threats that eventually forced her to leave office in fear and frustration.
You’ve probably seen a fair amount of “horse race” coverage focusing on competition between rival candidates while downplaying policies and platforms. But if you know how to read these stories, it helps you understand what’s at stake for you and can even inform your own political participation.
Motivated in part by President Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks about women and the numerous claims that he committed sexual assault, American women are running for state and national office in historic numbers.
Black rural voters living in red states are staunchly Democratic even as they’re surrounded by white voters who are almost all Republicans. And they’re often overlooked by big-name candidates from both parties.
A recent PRRI/The Atlantic 2018 Voter Engagement Survey found that 5 percent of Wisconsin residents surveyed said they or someone in their household was told they lacked the proper documentation to vote.