A political lesson Political candidates need new strategy to attract Black voters

Nate Abraham, Jr.

By Nate Abraham, Jr., Carolina Panorama Publisher

The presidential campaigns have hit South Carolina like a hurricane. Presidential candidates seem to be everywhere, playing “Let’s Make A Deal” with potential voters and trying to line up endorsements from preachers to politicians.

This outdated idea is based on the misguided premise that Black folks have “leaders” and these leaders can influence who Black folks vote for. I don’t give a damn who local politicians support for president. And if my minister or any other preacher tried to tell me who to vote for, we are going to have a very un-Christian-like conversation.

Speaking of churches, Joe Biden was all over television news when he showed up for service at Brookland Baptist. Multiple presidential candidates have showed up at my church. At least my pastor didn’t have any of them up in the pulpit or speaking to the congregation during the service. I didn’t go to church to hear bull—- from the pulpit.

If you want to get the support of Black voters, stop insulting us with the tired, ignorant tactics of the past. You are not going to appeal to us by using Ebonics or claiming to carry hot sauce in your purse, as Hillary Clinton discovered in the last election.  Engage us with ideas and policy proposals that are going to have a real impact on our community.

For a case study in what NOT to do, study the gubernatorial campaign of Rep. James Smith, who lost to Governor Henry McMaster.

He started his campaign by going around the state with Congressman Clyburn to be “introduced” to potential voters. It was seen as an official endorsement.  ut if you have to borrow credibility from South Carolina’s most popular African-American politician, that’s a good indication that you have little credibility of your own.

His campaign people ran around claiming that Smith had a “22-year record of serving the community.” I live in Richland County. This newspaper has covered the Black community for 33 years. We have reported on thousands of events in our community. I didn’t know Smith even existed until he ran for governor. So if he had a “22-year record” of service, very little of it was spent in our community.

The South Carolina Black Publishers Association interviewed each of the final three candidates in their hometowns – Phil Noble in Charleston, Marguerite Willis in Florence, and finally James Smith in Columbia. Phil Noble showed up with his campaign manager, who left as soon as the introductions were over. He answered every question we asked. Willis showed up with Senator John Scott, who she had just named as her running mate. They both answered questions, and were honest about their difference of opinions. They came across as a team.

The experience with the Smith campaign was different. Over the years, the Black publishers have met with many corporations and organizations. As the years have gone by, we noticed that they tend to make sure that there is an African-American in the meeting, and this person usually has nothing to do with advertising, marketing or public relations. It’s almost as if they see us in the parking lot and say, “There are a group of Negroes coming in. We better make sure we have some on our side!”

That was the feeling we got when we met with James Smith. Every Black staff member he had sat in on the interview. And when we asked questions, he would occasionally look at them for guidance before answering.

It is hard to get a group of Black publishers to agree on anything. But as we left the meeting, we all had the same thought – that he was by far the weakest candidate.

When it came time to pick a running mate, things got worse. Over half of the Democrats in South Carolina are African-American. So what did Smith do? He went out and picked a white female as a running mate. Apparently, he assumed that Black folks were going to vote for him anyway, so he needed to find an attractive white female to appeal to white voters.

The Black publishers were concerned that the issues facing African-American voters weren’t being addressed. So we put together a debate for the candidates, to be held at Francis Marion University. Noble and Willis agreed to participate. The Smith campaign said they had a scheduling conflict. We gave them alternative dates, which they declined. Eventually, we realized that they were trying to run out the clock. Apparently, they didn’t want their candidate answering questions directly from Black voters.

After Smith won the Democratic primary, Congressman James Clyburn wrote an editorial admonishing political candidates to communicate to Black voters by using Black-owned media outlets. The Black Publishers Association met with Democrat Party officials and sent several advertising proposals to the Smith campaign, but we never heard back from them. They didn’t spend a dime. It seemed as though they were focusing their resources on appealing to white voters because they figured Black folks had nowhere else to go.

Smith lost the general election. He deserved to lose.

So we have advice for the Presidential candidates. This is a new era. Stop trying to appeal to Black voters by styling and profiling in Black churches. Stop thinking that you can get the Black vote through endorsements, or that we will blindly follow who you think are our leaders. Don’t try to convince us that you can relate to us by talking or acting Black. Show up by yourself, be yourself and talk to us about policy and real issues.

And this time, heed the advice of Congressman Clyburn. Talk directly to us through unfiltered, Black-owned media outlets.

Especially this one.

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