Instead of walking in lockstep, friction between African-American political leaders at the national and local levels could threaten success in the 2018 midterm elections.
Georgia’s Democratic Rep. John Lewis campaigned on Saturday for Rep. Michael Capuano, a Massachusetts Democrat, at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Boston. There’s nothing unusual about Lewis, a civil rights icon, supporting a liberal Democrat—especially one who has served 10 terms in Congress with a track record of supporting issues that are important to Black people. What’s raising eyebrows in Boston’s Black community is that Capuano is White and competing against a female Black progressive candidate, Ayanna Pressley.
Lewis is not alone. In fact, the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee endorsed Capuano on Friday over Pressley, who was the first Black woman to served on the Boston City Council.
Local Black elected officials understand the loyalty to Capuano but would have preferred that their national counterparts stay neutral for the Democratic primary race, according to the New York Times. Bennie Wiley, a local civic leader who is supporting Pressley, is “disappointed, but not surprised” by the Black caucus’ endorsement of Capuano. Marie St. Fleur, a former state representative, raised questions about the caucus’ understanding of local issues.
What’s at risk in the endorsement is further dissatisfaction with the Democratic party, which supposedly embraces diversity. Democratic leaders have credited Black women with saving the party in recent elections but have come up short in returning the support of Black candidates. Black Democratic voters are demanding more than a simple thank you for their loyalty.
This situation could harm that party’s success in the 2018 midterm elections, as the Democrats seek to take control of Congress. Black voters want a reason to come out and cast a ballot. Overall African-American voter turnout declined in 2016, the first major election in the post-Barack Obama era. This division between national and local Black leaders could continue the decline.