Statewide candidates ignore Black media in favor of courting the white and Latino vote
by Jasmyne A. Cannick
With a little over two months left until the Nov. 2 general election, gubernatorial and U.S. Senate nominees are wasting no time in blanketing the airwaves statewide in an effort to reach out to potential voters. However, noticeably absent from these campaigns is any significant or meaningful “wooing” of Black voters – begging the question are California Republicans outright ignoring the Black vote while the Democrats continue to take it for granted?
To date, very little if any advertising has been done in Black newspapers or with Black radio stations in an attempt to reach Black voters via the Black media – the exception being Kamala Harris, the Democratic Party nominee for attorney general. Harris, who is Black, no surprise, did advertise in some Black media. And for the sake of conversation, Black owned media is just that, Black owned. Radio stations and newspapers that boast a Black audience but are not Black owned do not fall into this category. Sorry, Clear Channel.
Years past have seen candidates for statewide office making staged appearances with popular Black elected officials in the pulpits of Black churches and placing ads with Black owned media outlets in an effort to reach African-American voters, but not this time around.
Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman’s campaign has chosen to focus monies on reaching out to Latino voters with new Spanish-language TV ads meant to portray her as a “Latino-friendly” Republican. These ads aired during World Cup games and other programs targeted towards California’s growing Latino population. Not to be outdone, California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s campaign seems to have adopted the strategy of following the placement of the Whitman campaigns ads with their own ads, slamming her and painting her as running for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s third term.
It’s a well known fact that a highly contentious election season between two well funded campaigns is what advertising account executives dreams are made of. In some circumstances, the advertising revenue from just one race can make up for a year of down sales, let alone multiple races all trying to reach the same audience. For struggling Black owned radio stations and newspapers, it can mean the difference between adding or subtracting programming and going from a weekly to a monthly publication.
So is the Black media being snubbed and more importantly have Blacks lost their political swag.
It’s true that Blacks constitute only 6 percent of the state’s population and electorate, but the November vote is shaping up to be extremely close, and holding onto key constituencies, even relatively small ones, could end up making the difference on Election Day.
According to the Census, the Los Angeles metropolitan area houses the largest number of Blacks in California, followed by Oakland and the Inland Empire. San Jose and San Francisco have the smallest Black populations.
In Los Angeles, where Blacks make up 10 percent of the population, are overwhelmingly Democratic and live in a city where radio rules, KJLH 102.3 FM has been the flagship Black owned radio station for over two decades. Owned by Motown icon Stevie Wonder and home of the Steve Harney Morning Show and the award-winning Front Page talk show, Black Los Angeles’ early morning communications drum, KJLH’s listeners are mostly Black adults 25-54 who are educated, contribute billions of dollars into the Los Angeles market, and are high propensity voters. The same can be said of the readership of California’s Black owned newspapers.
But it’s not just the slight from the candidates in advertising revenue that the Black media is facing.
Multiple invitations to both the Whitman and Brown campaigns for interview requests with the Black media, to date, have been ignored. This includes invitations to appear on Los Angeles’ only daily talk show geared towards Blacks as well as interviews with syndicated Black journalists. But it gets worse.
While Black journalists’ interview requests went unanswered, they found themselves suddenly inundated with press releases from the same campaigns, who had taken the liberty of adding their email to their press list but not to respond to their request.
Nevertheless, the Black media had watched candidates continue to crisscross the state of California, appearing on various mainstream morning shows including Spanish-language media.
The cold shoulder and attitudes of the campaigns towards the Black media is eerily reminiscent of 2008, when opponents of California’s gay marriage ban Prop. 8, who were largely white Democrats, relied on a poorly conceived campaign strategy predicated on an outdated civil rights model and the assumption that Blacks would support gay marriage because, after all, it was a civil rights issue.
Very little advertising was done in Black newspapers or with Black radio stations. And on the day after the election, while Blacks were celebrating the election of the first Black president, gay marriage supporters awakened to the sad truth that it takes more than an assumption and a few buzz words to get the Black vote.
I’m not sure which is worse – the Democrats’ continued assumption of the Black vote or the Republicans’ refusal to even acknowledge the passage of the 15th Amendment granting Blacks the right to vote.
I think that for far too long, Black voters have just supported the Democratic Party because we were told to by Black elected officials and made to believe that the Democrats cared more about Black people than the Republican Party. I’ve said before and I’ll and say it again, the Democratic Party needs to be challenged by Blacks. It’s not enough to have a few Black Democrats in Sacramento and Washington. Nor is it fair to assume that because the president is Black that Blacks will just fall into line and vote Democratic.
One look at the Democratic Party’s organizational leadership and it’s clear to see that Black faces are far and few between when it comes to leadership. California’s own Democratic Party is a perfect example of this, as there is only one African-American who is a party officer.
On the other hand, the Republican Party is just as bad when it comes to their relationship with Blacks. It’s gotten to the point where apparently it’s not even worth having the appearance of going after the Black vote and so Republican candidates have chosen to bypass Blacks altogether in favor of the Latino vote by investing millions of dollars into Spanish-language media.
This year Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer actually finds herself having to run a campaign to keep her seat. And even though Boxer is facing a formidable challenge, neither Boxer nor her Republican opponent, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, has made any significant outreach to Blacks by way of the Black media and advertising.
Like Spanish-language media caters to an audience of Latinos, Black newspapers and radio stations have established a legacy of trust built by honestly and accurately telling the stories of Black America from the Black perspective.
Simply put, the Black press are the gatekeepers to the Black community and the glue that connects Blacks in Los Angeles with Blacks in New York and Blacks throughout America with Blacks around the world. Their power and influence is unmatched, unchallenged and unquestioned.
Candidates who ignore the Black press and take their advertising dollars elsewhere or choose to wait to the last minute to throw a few unspent crumbs to the Black press are sending a strong message that the Black vote is not as important as the white or Latino vote. A message that Black voters would do well to remember when these same candidates pop up at their churches with those popular Black elected officials and, more importantly, when headed to the polls on Nov. 2.
Based in Los Angeles, Jasmyne A. Cannick has worked on all three levels of government, including as a press secretary in the California State Assembly and House of Representatives. Today she works as a political communications consultant and writes a syndicated column read in over 200 newspapers. She can be reached at www.www.jasmynecannick.com.