Black voters across the South increasingly recognize that they have the electoral muscle to swing statewide races, but that doesn’t guarantee they will show up at the polls this year to save white Democrats struggling to hold on to their Senate seats.
Democrats and their allies are painfully aware that they can’t win without significant turnout among black voters in states such as Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, which are crucial battlegrounds in the party’s fight to keep majority control of the U.S. Senate.
They have engaged in a massive campaign to recapture some of the Barack Obama enchantment that lured droves of Southern blacks to the polls and even flipped North Carolina from red to blue in 2008.
In Louisiana, where more than 30 percent of the electorate is black, the state NAACP has launched the most aggressive and sophisticated voter drive in the organization’s history. The effort includes microtargeting, using the same Voter Activation Network database as President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
“This is more than we usually do. This is a true concerted effort,” said Louisiana NAACP State President Earnest Johnson. “We think this year’s Senate election will be an excellent opportunity to demonstrate whether or not our strategy will work.”
The goal is 60 percent turnout among black voters, he said, matching the surge for Mr. Obama in 2008.
Mr. Johnson stressed that his group is nonpartisan and promotes black voter participation regardless of political affiliation. However, blacks have provided near-monolithic support for Democrats in recent decades.
The chief beneficiary of the NAACP’s Louisiana experiment would be Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a three-term Democrat who faces a strong challenge from Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. Ms. Landrieu trailed Mr. Cassidy by 6 percentage points in one of the two most recent Real Clear Politics surveys and was tied in the other.
In a similar effort, the North Carolina NAACP is deploying about 50 organizers across the state for the next 10 weeks.
“This is the first time we’ve done something of this caliber,” said North Carolina NAACP President William J. Barber II.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is helping persuade blacks to vote in key Southern states through its Bannock Street Project, a scheme to spend $60 million and put 4,000 paid staff in 10 states.
Blacks unexpectedly flexed their muscle at the ballot box last month in Mississippi’s Republican runoff election. Sen. Thad Cochran attracted enough black support to beat back a fierce challenge from a tea party-backed candidate in the state’s open primary contest.
Mr. Cochran can’t count on blacks to support him en masse in the general election. But neither can Democratic candidate Travis W. Childers, who is in a long-shot run against Mr. Cochran and is scrambling to shore up black support.
“What you are seeing is a shift in African-Americans understanding what they got. They are getting used to voting,” said Thomas Mills, a Democratic campaign consultant based in Carrboro, North Carolina, referring to the typically low turnout among black voters before 2008.
He said Sen. Kay R. Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat in a tight race against Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis, would be unstoppable if she can combine strong support among blacks and white women.
“This gender gap is huge. If you have 22 percent of the electorate is African-American and she gets 95 percent of them and she wins white women by 5 or 6 points, Tillis can’t win,” Mr. Mills said. “The numbers aren’t there for him.”
Angling for black voters, Ms. Hagan has put together an aggressive ground game.
“We are building the biggest and most effective turnout operation North Carolina has ever seen in a Senate race and will be reaching out to all North Carolina communities including the African-American community,” said Hagan campaign spokesman Chris Hayden.