With Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry now the obvious winner of the Democratic primaries, it has proved to be true once again that highly unified black voters determine the party’s nominee.
Last fall I wrote a column arguing this would be the case this year as it has been in every election since 1988 where there was no Democratic incumbent, but I suggested—wrongly as it turned out—that Howard Dean might be the man who won it.
With Dean’s rapid decline after the Iowa caucuses in January, that’s obviously not what happened, despite his early promise of gaining key black support. But if the former Vermont governor was unable to carry the black bloc, the current Massachusetts senator was.
In doing so, he repeated the pattern that has been true in Democratic presidential primaries ever since the invention of “Super-Tuesday” in 1988—the series of Southern primaries held on the same day in which black voters deliver a huge wallop for whichever candidate they back.
The secret of internal Democratic Party politics is that blacks—more than almost any other group in the country—tend to vote as a block. This is obviously so in the national elections, where their vote has gone to the Democrats and against Republicans ever since the 1960s.
But it is true also inside the Democratic Party itself. And in the Southern primaries in particular, blacks have a heavy hand to wallop with.
Thus, in 1988, Jesse Jackson walked off with more than 90 percent of the black vote in the primaries and was for a while a major contender for the party nomination. He didn’t win it because Michael Dukakis was able to corner the white ethnics who then remained Democrats, a group that is dwindling fast.
In 1992, the black vote in the Southern primaries made Bill Clinton the frontrunner and soon the party nominee. Mr. Clinton, later called “America’s first black president” because of his popularity with blacks, took more than 70 percent of the black vote in the heavily black Southern primaries that year.
In 2000, Vice President Al Gore won the black vote in early primary contests with his main rival, New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley. Before the Iowa caucuses, the two candidates bickered over who would do more for blacks—they weren’t campaigning for the 98-percent white Iowa vote, but for the black votes in the Southern primaries that followed.
Mr. Gore won 75 to 90 percent of those votes in the early March primaries. Mr. Bradley dropped out, and Mr. Gore won the nomination.
A recent article by Democratic pollster Patrick Reddy in Insightmagazine [Analysis: Black Vote Key to Kerry’s Charge Feb. 17, 2004 By Patrick Reddy] shows that the same pattern holds this year. John Kerry got a boost in the mainly white bastions of Iowa and New Hampshire, but since then his victories have depended to a large extent on the black votes he was able to capture.
“Kerry carried the black vote in Missouri handily,” Mr. Reddy points out, while in Tennessee he won 47 percent and in Virginia 61 percent.
Obviously, both Mr. Kerry and his rivals—now mainly North Carolina Sen. John Edwards—have white voting bases as well, but whites don’t vote as solidly as blacks do.
As Mr. Reddy notes, “If history were any guide, the Democratic nomination in 2004 likely would be decided by the votes of African-Americans and Hispanics. Blacks make up roughly 20 percent of Democratic primary voters nationally and more than 40 percent of Democrats in most Southern states, while Hispanics constitute about 10 percent of the primary electorate and twice that in big states such as California, Texas and New York.”
Like blacks, Hispanics, the party’s newest voting bloc, have already gone for Mr. Kerry. “Returns in heavily Hispanic New Mexico and Arizona have shown Kerry to be leading among Mexican-Americans,” Mr. Reddy writes.
On March 9, “the South, with the highest percentage of black voters (roughly 40 percent of Southern Democrats), will largely finish its voting. On March 16, black votes could well decide the critical industrial state of Illinois, where they will cast about 30 percent of the primary vote. Minority voters appear to be well-positioned in February and March to determine the next Democratic nominee.”
If Mr. Reddy, a professional pollster, understands this, you can bet your ballots the politicians themselves do too, which is precisely why all the Democratic candidates (not to mention the Republicans) regularly pander to black voters and demands as much as they do.
Whoever carries the Democrats’ banner this year, non-whites will have handed it to him.
Whites, though they constitute the vast majority of Democrats and of the nation itself, have little to do with picking the nominee of one of the country’s two major parties anymore.