Democratic political strategists know that for all of their partys advantages next year, theyll almost certainly have significant turnout issues in more than a half-dozen highly competitive districts even if President Barack Obama remains popular.
Last cycle, our challenge was to make certain newly energized Obama voters continue to vote Democratic down the ballot. This time, our challenge is getting those same voters back out to vote again, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Executive Director Jon Vogel told me recently.
At least nine Democratic-held districts in five different states Alabamas 2nd (Rep. Bobby Bright) and 5th (Rep. Parker Griffith), Ohios 1st (Rep. Steve Driehaus) and 15th (Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy), North Carolinas 8th (Rep. Larry Kissell), Virginias 2nd (Rep. Glenn Nye) and 5th (Rep. Tom Perriello), and Georgias 8th (Rep. Jim Marshall) and 12th (Rep. John Barrow) could see a steep drop-off in the midterm among demographic groups that were energized by Obamas candidacy and supported Democratic candidates across the board last cycle.
Eight of the districts have sizable African-American populations, including Ohios 1st district, which is more than one-quarter black and includes most of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
The other district, Ohios 15th, is based in Columbus and includes Ohio State University, a huge source of young voters for the Obama campaign. (Younger voters are also important in Virginias 5th, which includes Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.)
African-Americans and college-age students turned out in considerable numbers for Obama, and it is far from clear whether they will do so again in the midterms. In fact, exit polls over the past few elections have shown that turnout for both groups has dropped in nonpresidential years.
For example, African-Americans made up 11 percent of all voters in 2004 and 13 percent of all voters in 2008, but only 10 percent of the 2006 midterm electorate. For younger voters, the drop-off is even more stark. Voters 18-29 years old constituted 18 percent of all voters in 2008 and 17 percent of all voters in 2004. But in the intervening 2006 midterm, they accounted for only 12 percent of all voters.
Along with the drop in turnout is the corresponding, but different, issue of vote choice. While black voters and 18-29-year-olds turned out in bigger numbers last year, they also gave a much greater percentage of their vote to Obama (and presumably to other Democratic candidates).
Without Obama on the ballot to bring out voters or define the overall election by his candidacy, it is uncertain how the two key voting groups will cast their ballots in individual contests. Some of these voters might return to their traditional voting preferences, especially if a number of Republican moderates are on the ballot.
Obviously, one huge question is how personally involved the president will become in the elections.
Obama has shown some limited willingness to play in some House and Senate races. Before his election, he recorded automated telephone calls for the Democratic nominee in last years special election in Louisianas 4th district and appeared in a TV ad for now-Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). More recently, he has played a role in the New York and Pennsylvania Senate races and headlined fundraisers for Senate candidates. He will do a joint fundraiser for the House and Senate campaign committees later this month.
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