June 29, 2004
Sen. John Kerry and Ralph Nader shouldn't take the black vote for granted.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with Nader recently on Capitol Hill. Led by its chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the caucus urged the consumer advocate and lawyer to withdraw from the race.
Although the meeting and its aftermath were predictable, it raises some interesting issues.
The caucus members generally represent congressional districts where many of the voters are African-Americans. Nader has never been popular among African-American voters. In the presidential election of 2000, Nader received only 1 percent of the African-American vote. He currently has little, if any, support among African-Americans, even though many of them agree with some of his most significant issues, especially the complete opposition to the war in Iraq. In six key battleground states -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, Michigan and Nevada -- approximately 73 percent of African-Americans disagree that the war in Iraq is worth the U.S. casualties there, according to Cornell Belcher, a pollster based in Washington, D.C., whose findings were recently cited in the Washington Post.
But another issue brought forth by the meeting between members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Nader is the African-American vote and Kerry.
Kerry's current stances on issues such as health care, education and the job situation in the country favor African-Americans. But he has yet to reach out consistently to blacks with his views on these issues.
Kerry also has a good voting record on civil rights as a senator. But most African-Americans know nothing about his record because he rarely mentions these issues on the campaign trail.
What's more, Kerry has delayed including African-Americans among his key campaign advisers. African-Americans are the most loyal of all Democratic voters, but it was only after he was criticized for this failure to include many African-Americans that Kerry took action to put several in his inner circle.
But in asking Nader to withdraw from the race so early in the election year, Congressional Black Caucus members quietly sent a message to the Democratic Party that strongly suggests that Kerry has the African-American vote locked up.
With Kerry still not reaching out strongly to black voters, it would have been more productive to talk to Nader about shared agreement on key issues and not his withdrawal from the race. Kerry and the Democrats would have taken notice. And the Democratic Party would have been better for it.
Brian Gilmore is a lawyer and poet with two collections of poetry, including "Jungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags: A Poem for Duke Ellington and the Duke Ellington Orchestra" (Karibu Books, 2000). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.