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Could drop in black turnout cost Democrats the House?

October 14, 2009 |  8:12 am

Holly Jackson shows off her six-month-old daughter Hollin and her Vote sticker at an Obama rally in Littleton, Colo., Monday, Nov. 3, 2008

In next month's gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia -- widely seen as a referendum on the Democrats running the White House and Congress -- one constituency may stay home.

African American voters, crucial to Barack Obama's success in those two states in last year's presidential races, are telling pollsters they don't plan to vote in the off-year elections. In a recent poll in Virginia, the Washington Post found that while African Americans made up 20% of the electorate last year, just 12% are expected to show up this year. 

The poll also suggested a wider problem for Dems -- many white voters who helped lift Obama to the White House last year may also stay home. Call it a backlash against Washington's policies on the economy, healthcare and Wall Street, a massive infusion of government spending that has still left unemployment rates soaring.

But it's the disaffection among black voters -- perhaps a natural falloff from the high turnout levels they posted during the historic election of the first African American president -- that is drawing attention from analysts. Some think it could cost Democrats control of the House in 2010.

If what looks like is going to happen in Virginia plays out on a national level, I do think Democrats will lose the House,” Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling told The Hill newspaper. In a recent column, he predicted that in a number of Southern congressional districts "Democrats are going to have a world of trouble ... if black voters aren't engaged to a greater extent than what the Post is finding in Virginia."

David Bositis, an expert on black turnout at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, told The Hill that he doubts Virginia will be a bellwether on the 2010 elections, because results will likely turn on the individual candidates and their outreach to black voters.

"It’s going to be a stretch to say that what happens in Virginia will, in any way, be telling about next year,” he said. “But it definitely is something they are going to be concerned about in terms of 2010.”

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: Holly Jackson and 6-month-old daughter, Hollin, and her '"Vote" sticker at a Colorado Obama rally in November 2008. Credit: Ed Andrieski / Associated Press.