Both Democrats and Republicans are lobbying for African American voters, but how will Californians vote when they go to the polls in November?
Harmeet Dhillon, RNC National Committeewoman, says the California State GOP is encouraging Republican people of color to run for local elected offices and that the GOP has had success with several Black Republican mayors being elected in the Inland Empire.
“We try to make sure the candidates reflect the communities they come from,” said Dhillon, a San Francisco resident who is originally from India.
Dhillon said several African Americans are involved in Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign—they are attracted to some of the issues Trump, and the Republican Party, are talking about: jobs, safety, and education.
“A lot of Americans are concerned about jobs going abroad,” she said.
According to Kaitlyn MacGregor, communications director for the California GOP (CRP), the party relies on local contacts to identify and train potential Black leaders.
“Running for office often starts right in our neighborhoods, with local elections,” she said. “This is why the CRP has been working to build and strengthen Republican county committees—so they can better identify and recruit candidates who look like, sound like, and have the shared experiences of their communities, to local office.”
However, the Senate Republican Caucus said they couldn’t provide a figure for the number of Black employees because that was a personnel issue.
Although Dhillon believes the GOP has an attractive message to Black voters, the Public Polling Institute of California states that 82 percent of African American likely voters are Democrats. Trump has tried to reach African Americans by talking about jobs and visiting churches, but many Black voters have been turned off by his rhetoric.
Dhillon says she prefers the Republican’s message because they “don’t try to divide people and engage in racial rhetoric.”
John Wood, former second vice chair of the LA GOP, conveyed that he feels alienated by Trump’s antics to the point he’s planning to vote for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.
“I've been disdainful of his tendency to insult not only his political opponents but entire groups of people along with inconsequential bystanders like the Indiana judge in the Trump University case, the Khan family, Ms. Merchado, etc.,” said Wood. “The lack of civility in politics is an old problem of course, but Trump takes it to a new level.
However, he still expects most Republicans to vote for Trump to prevent a Hillary Clinton presidency.
“Hillary Clinton's corruption, in the eyes of not just Republicans but most Independents and many Democrats, coupled with massive policy disagreements, are enough to make most Republicans hold their nose and vote, Trump,” said Wood.
According to Michael Soller, communications director for the California Democratic Party, the party sees “Black voters as a critical part of the electorate” and is vying hard for their votes.
“We don’t take them for granted,” he said.
Soller said Black voters make up six percent of the electorate. He added that 10 percent of them are “infrequent voters,” which means they are registered voters, but only vote in the general elections and miss the midterm elections and local races.
According to Soller, the California Democratic Party has several ways of reaching out to Black voters such as an email program, a mailing program and a door hanging program (this program leaves fliers attached to door handles).
He added that the party also mails fliers reminding voters of the Democratic candidates for the various races.
Darren Parker, State Chair of the California Democratic Party’s African American caucus, said the party also has different ways of identifying and training potential Black politicians, such as an African American committee. Potential Black politicians can get valuable training as regional directors in African American caucuses in 80 counties across the state.
Soller said—from his conversations with Black voters—he has determined some of the issues they are concerned about including social programs for young people, income inequality, the rising cost of college and criminal justice reform.
Trump brought up criminal justice reform during the first presidential debate when calling for the reintroduction of the Stop-and-Frisk program. Trump praised the program, which was ruled by a court to have unfairly targeted Black and Latino young men for police stops in New York City, but California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a candidate for U.S. Senate, later said the program had been “ineffective.”
Soller said Trump’s rhetoric, especially his comments about Black communities, are having a reverse effect on Black voters—he is driving them towards the Democrats.
“Trump is driving Black voters away,” he said. “He paints the Black community as a place of crime and zero opportunity. That picture doesn’t match what’s going on.”
Soller said the Democratic Party is more attuned to the needs of Black voters.
“Today’s Republican Party offers nothing for the vast majority of African Americans.”