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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Outreach, 2022

At The American Prospect, Alexander Sammon reports on GOP outreach:
The RNC community center model is the latest attempt by Republicans to court nonwhite voters, who have long eschewed the party and been demonized by its leading representatives. But 2020’s frenzied election returns suggested an opportunity. Joe Biden’s share of votes from Latinos decreased by eight percentage points compared to Hillary Clinton’s, according to a report from the progressive data utility Catalist. As Vox reported, this marked the “most dramatic shift in a four-year period among the major racial or ethnic groups seen.” The movement was stunning in areas like South Texas, where five heavily Latino counties flipped to Donald Trump.

Biden’s vote share of Black Americans also decreased by three points, and the GOP overperformed with Asian Americans and Native Americans as well. It was something less than a breakthrough with nonwhite voters; Republicans losing Asian Americans by a 27 percent margin exhibited their best performance with any major racial minority bloc. But given the huge turnout increase in 2020, in raw numbers, Republicans put up vote totals that once would’ve seemed impossible even to the Pollyannaish.

The community centers were established to bore the opening further, making the appeal directly to racial minorities inside their communities, with an extremely offline, grassroots offering. This wasn’t a soft sell: The centers beckon potential voters with everything from movie nights to free dinners to holiday parties to gun safety trainings, thrown by local organizers and paid for by your friends at the RNC, which has dedicated millions of dollars to the program. If those tactics sound familiar, that’s because they were once used to great effect, by groups as varied as the Black Panthers in Oakland or Democrats in New York’s Tammany Hall.

Many of these facilities are set up in places like Florida and Texas, where Republicans are already assured victory statewide and, thanks to vicious gerrymanders, in most congressional districts. But they’re also in places where the party aspires only to shrink the drastic margins by which they’re losing, places like Philadelphia. Performing better with minorities is an existential matter for Republicans, who cannot win popular elections in an increasingly nonwhite country if they don’t improve with these groups.

The Robeson County center, the RNC’s only outpost in North Carolina, is neither. Republicans flipped long-blue Robeson County to red with Trump on the ticket, but now face a much more onerous task of getting its residents to vote for replacement-level Republicans in off years. Democrats, meanwhile, believed they would win statewide in North Carolina in 2020, in both the presidential election and the Senate, only to come up, in both cases, less than 100,000 votes short; they’re back at it this year to contest for another Senate vacancy.

All of which meant that the votes of North Carolina’s 55,000-member Lumbee Tribe that the RNC is aggressively pursuing could help decide a swing seat in a tied-up Senate, as well as one of the few competitive House races left in the country, NC-07. A majority-nonwhite, poverty-stricken region was the sort of place Democrats once dominated; you could also say it was exactly the sort of place they took for granted.

Multiple Democratic aides told me that they viewed the community center operation as a shambolic nonentity, a “nothingburger,” an earned media play at best, with the minimal online presence as proof.

But one local journalist, who covered the center’s unveiling, encouraged me to not mistake secrecy for inaction. “It’s just really, really boots on the ground,” she told me. “They were all over me when I was there, followed me around the entire time, and ushered me out right after it was over. They gave an award to this young woman for her work with them; they wouldn’t even give me her name.” After forwarding me a contact for the state’s RNC representative, she added, “Good luck.”