Across the country, African Americans were among the millions of U.S. voters who braved everything from long lines, to rainy weather in some states, in order to cast ballots in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Viewed by some as a referendum on the policies and rhetoric of President Donald Trump’s administration, the results were a mixed bag: disappointing for Black candidates in some closely watched races, while a triumph in others.
Key races being closely watched included that of Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat vying to become the nation’s first Black woman governor. She’d been endorsed by Oprah, former President Barack Obama, Congressman John Lewis and multiple celebrities, along with countless Black women around the country.
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Her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, who is also the Secretary of State who oversees elections, has faced allegations of voter suppression and several lawsuits. He was backed by Trump, who recently visited Georgia. At Essence presstime, with nearly four million votes cast in the race, Kemp was leading with 52 percent of the vote; Abrams had 46 percent. The Abrams campaign has not conceded and is weighing possible legal options.
In Florida, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum had been locked in a tight, contentious race with opponent, former Congressman Ron DeSantis—also bolstered by Trump. Gillum, who hoped to become Florida’s first Black governor, conceded last night. “I want to encourage you not to give up,” Gillum told the crowd as his wife, family and supporters looked on.
And in Maryland, former NAACP president Ben Jealous garnered more than 800,000 votes, but still lost the match-up against Republican incumbent Larry Hogan, a moderate who’s largely rejected Trump’s positions.
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“As General Colin Powell told me a long time ago, it’s easy to figure out what we don’t agree on,” Jealous told supporters assembled at his watch party in Baltimore. “It’s much harder to find out what we do agree on and get it done. I pledge to Governor Hogan that as we find points of agreement, I will work with him to get things done for the people of our state.”
The Democratic Party took back the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. As of Essence press time, at least 23 of the party’s nominees in red-to-blue seats have won their election — 17 of them women. Meanwhile Republicans will hold onto the Senate, and even gain several seats.
Said Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, Tom Perez: “We won back the House because our candidates had a clear message for working families and refused to let Trump and the GOP distract us from the issues that matter most. Democrats believe that health care is a right for all. We believe that the economy should work for everyone, not just those at the top,” said Perez.
“We believe in protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, not tearing holes in the safety net in order to enrich those already at the top,” Perez continued. “We believe that diversity is our strength, and that there is no justification for the brutality of separating immigrant children from their parents. And we believe that facts matter.”
There was upbeat news for many Black women candidates, part of the wave of women running nationwide. Groups that include Higher Heights, Collective Pac, BlackPAC, Black Voters Matter Fund, Woke Vote, Rosa PAC, Democracy in Color, and others have aggressively campaigned and/or raised donations for African American candidates and people of color.
On Election Day, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) and the Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR) hosted an Election Day Command Center to monitor, analyze and assess the midterm elections nationwide from an African American perspective, on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. Last night, NCBCP President & CEO, Melanie Campbell noted of the results: “God ain’t through with this night at all.”
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Some of the midterm victors include Lauren Underwood, elected to represent Illinois’ 14th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Underwood made history with her victory as the first woman and first African American elected to represent the district.
Underwood has been a longtime advocate for access to affordable quality health care, first as a nurse and later as a senior advisor in the Obama administration. LCV Victory Fund was among those who endorsed Underwood, citing her background in public health, clean energy and commitments to climate action.
“Tonight, Illinois elected champions for climate action and public health,” said Gene Karpinski, LCV President. “We look forward to their leadership as we work together to ensure that every family has access to safe drinking water and continue to build Illinois’ clean energy future.”
Ayanna Pressley was elected to represent Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House. She has spent her career in public service fighting for expanded economic opportunity and focusing on issues unique to girls and women.
Pressley, who won the Democratic primary and ran unopposed, becomes the first African American woman to represent any New England state in Congress.
Ilhan Omar was elected to represent Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House. In 2016, Ilhan Omar made history in her Minnesota state House election and now shatters barriers again as the first Somali American in Congress as well as the first Muslim woman elected to Congress. As an immigrant, a public servant, and a mother, supporters say Omar has dedicated her career to serving her community, uplifting communities that did not feel heard, and speaking truth to power.
Jahana Hayes was elected to represent Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House. She becomes the first woman of color to represent Connecticut in Congress. Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, released the following statement:
“Jahana grew up in Waterbury, and her years of work as a Connecticut public school teacher testify to her commitment to serving her community. As the 2016 National Teacher of the Year winner, the country got to see the size of Jahana’s heart, and now they will get to see her bring her passion and determination to Washington.”
Tish James was elected New York attorney general—the first woman and first African American elected who will serve in that capacity.
“Tish James has spent her career standing up for those without a voice. The transition from being a protector of the people’s interests as Public Advocate to the people’s lawyer as New York AG is a natural one,” said Sean Rankin, Executive Director of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.
“Right now, we need leaders in our states and at the national level who are ready to fight for people, Rankin continued. “Democratic Attorneys General have come together like never before to work together and fight as a team. James’ role as a watchdog on government in New York City is the kind of training that will make her an incredibly effective watchdog on the federal government and national voice.”
The NAACP, National Action Network, Rainbow Push and Color of Change Pac are among the civil rights groups that have been on the ground and online conducting voter education and programs across the nation. Some advocates had focused efforts on pivotal states such as Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The goal was to increase turnout of African American voters who do not typically vote during the midterm election, especially considering how tightly contested many races were across the various states in this election cycle.
President and CEO of the NAACP Derrick Johnson issued the following statement regarding the results of the 2018 midterm election:
“This was a remarkable wave of grassroots activism that swept across the country — with women and people of color leading the way. From the U.S. House of Representatives being flipped to the passage of Amendment 4 in Florida, which restored voting rights to convicted felons, this election was an overwhelming rebuke of Trump and Trumpism, and a show of support for candidates who look like America and campaigned on a bold, forward-looking and inclusive vision.”
But Johnson said voter suppression played a huge role in the silencing of the political voices of the Black community and all people of color. “As we saw in Georgia and Tennessee, Republicans engaged in a massive voter suppression strategy that has included further rolling back the Voting Rights Act.”
“We will continue to resist attacks on our communities, will fight for fundamental structural changes to our political system to restore the balance of power back to the people, and we will propel a visionary movement in 2020,” said Johnson.
“We will not let this election distract or dissuade us.”