Democrats work to boost African-American turnout
It could be important in races like Mississippi's 4th C.D.
By John King/CNN
JACKSON, Mississippi (October 26) -- Democrats are promising an aggressive voter turnout effort as they try to defy the odds in this year's midterm congressional elections.
A critical element of the Democratic strategy is getting black Americans and other racial minorities out to the polls next Tuesday.
Ronnie Shows is running for Congress from Mississippi as a Democrat, swear to God.
"Ronnie Shows promises you that he's going to stay a Democrat," he says. "I am not a switcher."
There's good reason those words are gospel to the black community here in Jackson, and good reason Shows goes out of his way to repeat them. "I'm running as a Democrat because I believe in the Democratic philosophy," he says.
Nearly 40 percent of the registered voters in Mississippi's 4th congressional district are black. If they vote in high numbers, the Democrat tends to win.
But many of these voters are still angry at the last Democrat they sent to Congress. Mike Parker switched parties, joining the Republican revolution sweeping across the Deep South.
But Parker isn't running for re-election, and the 4th district is taking center stage in an aggressive effort to energize traditional Democratic base voters for next week's midterm elections.
The Democratic Party and its allies are spending more than $25 million this year on a get-out-the-vote campaign, and more than $5 million of that is targeted to the black community.
There is organizing in churches, a black radio campaign featuring the president and the first lady and later this week, a congressional black caucus bus tour to several targeted districts in the Midwest.
In Jackson, Democratic foot soldiers spread sample ballots outside black churches as the candidate makes his case inside.
Local ministers promise their most aggressive turnout push in years.
"In Jesus' name, wrap your arms around each and every candidate right now," Rev. Hosea Hines tells his parishoners.
"We feel that we need to put a candidate in office who is sensitive to our needs and certainly who can associate with who we are and where we want to go," Rev. Hines said. "The Republican Party has certainly been insensitive to a lot of needs within the African-American community."
Republican tax lawyer Delbert Hosemann, who also wants to represent the 4th District, is banking on support from conservative whites who don't think much of President Bill Clinton and the national Democratic Party.
"In Mississippi we've got our moral compass on right," Hosemann says as he campaigns.
Hosemann sticks to a textbook Republican message, promoting the flat tax and more military spending.
"I'm a pro-life conservative..." Hosemann says. "That is who you would be voting for if you vote for me."
But he isn't conceding the black vote altogether, and is getting help from a small band of more affluent black voters who are embracing the GOP.
"Our votes can no longer be taken for granted by those in another party I won't name," said one man.
Hosemann opposes affirmative action and says the cure for racial inequality is better schools.
"We lose too many people, African Americans as well as others, beginning with those years one through 12," he says.
A recent reception for the candidate drew but a modest crowd, but even a modest black vote for Hosemann could tip the scales here.
"I think this is going to be a new day for Mississippi, that African Americans are now beginning to vote independently of party," said one woman. "We are voting for a good candidate who can represent all of us."
Shows is way behind in fund-raising, and knows he cannot afford to lose his base.
So a late-campaign Sunday means a handful of church visits, spreading the message at a popular catfish restaurant and dropping by to say happy birthday to the mother of a major supporter.
"I am a Democrat. I'm going to stay a Democrat and I do not take anybody's vote for granted," Shows says.
It's the kind of one-one-one contact Shows hopes will encourage black Mississippians in the 4th district to vote and to believe him when he says he is a die-hard Democrat.
Monday, October 26, 1998
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