How Black voters could determine election outcomes in close midterm races

Candidates in tight races are trying to win Black voters in the midterms. The voting bloc is critical in states that could determine the balance of power in Congress. One of those states is Pennsylvania, where the president traveled to support Senate candidate John Fetterman. Cornell Belcher and Malcolm Kenyatta joined Laura Barrón-López to discuss the battle to court Black voters.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Candidates in tight races across the country are trying to win over Black voters in next month's midterm elections.

    As Laura Barrón-López explains, this voting bloc is critical in a number of states that could determine the balance of power in Congress.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Thanks, Judy.

    One of those states that could tip the scales is Pennsylvania, where the president traveled today to support Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman. Black voters were key to President Biden's victory against Donald Trump. Take these three swing states that went blue in 2020. In Georgia, more than half of Democratic voters were Black. In Michigan, one in five Democratic voters were Black, and, in Pennsylvania, again, one in five Democrats.

    For more on the battle to court Black voters in Pennsylvania and other key battlegrounds, I'm joined by Cornell Belcher, a veteran Democratic pollster and president of Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies, and Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democratic Senate representative in Pennsylvania.

    He finished behind Fetterman in the primary earlier this year and is now supporting him.

    Thanks to you both for joining us.

    Representative Kenyatta, I want to start with you.

    Three-quarters of Black voters cite the inflation and economy as their top concern. Does that square with what you're hearing from voters in Pennsylvania?

  • State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-PA):

    Black voters are concerned about a number of different things.

    The impact of the Dobbs decision is one that comes to mind. And I think Stacey Abrams said so brilliantly earlier this morning on "Morning Joe" that people don't look at this in terms of the economic issue that abortion is. But I think a lot of voters are.

    They're understanding what it can mean to have an unexpected pregnancy, to not be ready to start a family or expand your family, and to have the government come in and say, you know what, you have to have that child anyway.

    They're worried about the fact that, still, Black entrepreneurs who are trying to get their lives back on track after the pandemic are still meeting some headwinds.

    But I think any time the president is out of D.C., and back in states like Pennsylvania, doing what he does so well, talking about what he has accomplished, and also talking about the pain that people are still feeling and what we can do if we have a bigger, bolder Senate majority, and, frankly, I think that John Fetterman is going to win.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Cornell, what about a beyond Pennsylvania? Is the economy the number one issue for Black voters?

  • Cornell Belcher, Former Obama Campaign Pollster:

    It's not just the economy, stupid.

    I mean, it's not. I mean, I think, too often, we get in the news media — and I'm guilty of it. I'm part of the media these days a lot — is — set on these — a simple narrative, and then we drive that narrative over and over.

    And it's far more complicated than that. I mean, if you take African American voters, for instance, voting rights, criminal justice reform are top-tier issues. It's not simply about the economy. And what you see in some of these instances, in places like — like these battleground states, you're going to see Democrat organizations, BlackPAC, CBC PAC, are now communicating around some of these more micro, critical issues to African Americans being around criminal justice reform, as well as voting rights reforms, which are top-of-mind issues, especially in places like Georgia.

    Look, if you are disenfranchising African Americans, if you're taking away their political power, yes, gas prices matter, but you have taken away my political power matters more.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    That brings me to my next topic, actually, which is that President Biden has framed the election as a choice between pro-democracy and anti-democracy forces. And a New York Times poll found that 66 percent of Black voters see Donald Trump as a major threat to democracy.

    Representative Kenyatta, despite that, most Democrats IN competitive races, as you noted, are running on abortion rights issues, as well as the economy. So why isn't this a more prominent message from Democrats?

  • State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta:

    Well, honestly, Republicans are doing the job for us.

    Dr. Oz, Doug Mastriano, they are fighting for which one of them loves Donald Trump the most. They went up to Luzerne County to kiss his boots and to try to get an invite back to Mar-a-Lago. Black voters understand the threat that Donald Trump faces. And they also understand that this is still very much Donald Trump's party, that Republicans continue to defend him, no matter what he does.

    Black voters make the connection that it's because of Trump and Mitch McConnell's awful, evil alliance that they had for many years that they ran through conservative out-of-touch justices who made getting rid of Roe one of their top priorities when conservatives got a majority on the bench.

    And so Black voters are some of the most astute voters in this country. We have to look at and really interrogate what elected officials are saying to our community, and what they want to do about the concerns that we lay out.

    And so I think Democrats are talking about what they have accomplished with the slimmest of slim majorities, and what more we can accomplish with a bigger, bolder majority. We can codify Roe. We can pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. We can continue some of the work that was done in the Inflation Reduction Act, like lowering drug prices.

    And so I think Republicans are doing everything they can to show that they are Donald Trump's biggest acolyte. And, frankly, I think it's going to hurt them.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Cornell, we have talked about before that Black voters consistently and overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, and that's been pretty static over the past few decades.

    So, are Black voters motivated to turn out this year?

  • Cornell Belcher:

    Go back eight, nine months ago, and I would argue that a lot of the signs along the road here to this midterm look a lot like the signs that I was seeing along the road to the 2010 midterm, with enthusiasm and voters paying attention, especially younger voters and African — and voters of color, particularly African American voters.

    Over the last couple of months, we have seen that enthusiasm gap shrink, and battleground polling that I have for the African Americans across battleground congressional districts, what you see is a much larger swathe of African Americans saying they're very — they're paying close attention to the election, more so than they did in 2010, and as well as the enthusiasm measures between whites and African Americans shrinking tremendously.

    And that does go to the point about the — their performance has been rather static. But the turnout has not.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Cornell, you mentioned this earlier, but, as we know, in Georgia and some other states, there are new voting laws taking effect this cycle that Democrats have said amount to voter suppression, targeted specifically at Black voters.

    So how do you factor that into Democrats' chances that cycle

  • Cornell Belcher:

    If you keep making it harder to vote, eventually, you're going to have less people vote.

    And that's what you see. And, look, Georgia has been ground zero for that. And, look, going back to the last election, and even the last midterm, we saw that African Americans, on average, had longer waits and had more difficulty voting than their white counterparts.

    And what you see is the state legislatures making it harder, but not only in states like Georgia, but also in states like Florida, where the viral video of the African American who's being confronted by the elections police, I guess it is, is meant to intimidate.

    And, look, I think it's going to backfire. I think that Republicans think that they can intimidate and scare African Americans away from exercising their political power I think is going to backfire.

    And I know at least one organization that I work for is actually going to use that footage of the voting police going after African Americans to use it to mobilize African Americans. So, ultimately, I think it will backfire.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Cornell Belcher, Representative Malcolm Kenyatta, thank you so much for your time.

  • State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta:

    Thank you.

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