Yesterday's Politico has a nice article on the role of the heavy pro-Obama black turnout on a number of congressional races. Among the 20 Democratic House pickups were several propelled by the black vote. Many of these gains were in districts that have been quite Republican over the past several cycles.
What we've seen in many states' redistricting processes has been an effort to take a black population (oftentimes relatively small) and subsume it within a surrounding area that is more Republican leaning, essentially diluting the power of their votes. Under normal circumstances--i.e. black turnout significantly lower than white turnout; low levels of black mobilization; no coordinated voter registration efforts--the black vote, although heavily Democratic, isn't able to sway electoral outcomes. This year, however, was not a "normal" election year. With the Republican brand in tatters, underlying economic uncertainty, and higher black turnout, mobilization, and registration, the black vote was able to tip a number of districts. To wit:
Virginia 5. Republican incumbent Virgil Goode was defeated, by less than 1000 votes, by Democratic challenger Tom Perriello in a district that includes heavily African American "southside" Virginia. The district is 24% African American. In his past four re-elections, Goode had received 59%, 64%, 63%, and 67%.
Virginia 2. Not far from Goode, Thelma Drake got bounced by 4 points by Democratic challenger Glenn Nye. Encompassing much of the Hampton Roads area, the district is 21% African American.
Connecticut 4. Here, the last House Republican from New England, Chris Shays, was finally taken down after a series of close calls. Unlike the Virginia districts cited above, the black population in this district is only 11% (Hispanic population is 13%) and largely concentrated in the city of Bridgeport. Whereas in previous years black turnout was relatively low, this year's upturn was enough to elect challenger Jim Himes.
Ohio 1. This Cincinnati centered district saw the defeat of Rep. Steve Chabot to challenger Steve Driehaus in a constituency that is 27% black.
Maryland 1. In this House race, just recently called in the past few days, Democrat Frank Kratovil defeated Andy Harris, who defeated incumbent Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in an ugly primary earlier this year. In a district that is 11% black and was once a hotbed of support for George Wallace in his '68 and '72 presidential runs, Kratovil won by roughly 2000 votes.
Alabama 2. The retirement of incumbent Republican Terry Everett created an open seat few would normally think competitive. A Republican has held this seat since 1965. However, the 30% of the district that is African American contributed to Democrat Bobby Bright's upset win. Despite the drubbing that Obama took statewide and the exit polling that showed only 20% of white Alabamans voting for the president elect, the black vote, ironically, seems responsible for Bright's ultimate triumph.
As the article notes, most importantly, the interesting dynamic to be watched will be how these new members act upon their swearing in come January. Owing their victory, largely, to a sizable minority in their district can create complications for a new member. Because these districts have been consistently Republican, these newly minted members will have targets on their backs from the get-go. Nonetheless, their relationship with this sliver of their constituency may prove to be the key to their fate in Congress. If they cast votes or push policy in line with the black electorate (as these voters will surely demand) they may find themselves out of step from the rest of their district. However, should they shun their black constituents, they may find themselves just short of the number of votes they need to secure re-election. Figuring out how to navigate this tricky dynamic will be the first order of business for these new members.