Hillary Clinton has a black voter problem in the nation’s biggest battleground state.
After the first full weekend of in-person early voting ended Sunday, African-American turnout failed to meet expectations — or historic precedent — leaving top Democrats and activists fuming or worried that Clinton’s campaign isn’t living up to the hype in Florida.
“They’re not doing enough in the black community. I have been screaming for months about this and nothing changed and now look what’s happening,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who represents one of South Florida’s largest African-American communities.
Hastings said he told Clinton aide John Podesta on a conference call last week that “you need to plus-up the spending in the African-American community and get out the vote.” Hastings said he was told someone would get back to him. “Nobody did,” he said.
African-Americans traditionally dominate early in-person voting. But they didn’t show in force this weekend. And Hastings said he wasn’t surprised. After Sunday night’s polls closed, black voters accounted for 16 percent of the in-person early vote ballots cast. And that included five previous days of in-person early voting.
But in 2012, in just two days of in-person early voting, blacks cast 25 percent of those early ballots, according to Dan Smith, a University of Florida political science professor who published some of the early voting data on his must-read Election Smith blog.
Due to such strong African-American turnout after the beginning of in-person early voting in 2012, Democrats began outpacing Republicans in total ballots cast before Election Day, by about 10,000. This year, though, Republicans still cling to their own lead of about 9,000. As of Monday morning about 3.7 million absentee and in-person early ballots had been cast, 40.5 percent of them by Republicans and 40.2 percent by Democrats.
“The black vote is way underperforming compared to 2012,” Smith said.
Clinton’s Florida communications director, Mahen Gunaratna, said Clinton has been campaigning in African-American communities throughout the state.
“From visiting historic Overtown [in Miami] to attending Bethune-Cookman University Homecoming and services at New Mount Olive Baptist Church this past weekend, Hillary Clinton has spent time connecting on issues important to the Black community in Florida,” he said in a statement to POLITICO Florida. “Over this last week of the campaign, she will continue sharing her vision of a nation that stronger together with the diverse communities that make up the coalition that will deliver Florida on November 8.”
Both the Clinton and Trump campaigns are blitzing Florida this week. Former President Bill Clinton is making stops today in Immokalee, Florida City and St. Petersburg. Hillary Clinton holds rallies in Dade City, Sanford and Fort Lauderdale. And President Barack Obama is in Miami and Jacksonville on Thursday. Trump will also stop in Jacksonville and Pensacola on Thursday after making Wednesday appearances in Miami and Orlando.
The black vote is not only crucial to Clinton but to any Democrat who wants to win statewide. Though 13 percent of nearly 13 million registered voters in Florida, African-Americans often give Democrats 90 percent of their vote. Although the margins are huge for Democrats, the benefit of the black vote diminishes with low turnout.
Despite their disappointment with African-American turnout, Democrats see reason to hope in the emergence of the Hispanic vote. Hispanics, who account for about 16 percent of the active registered voters, appear to be backing Clinton with at least 60 percent of their vote or more.
Compared to 2012, Hispanic voting is off the charts. As of Monday morning — eight days before Election Day — Hispanics had cast more than 507,000 absentee ballots by mail and in-person early votes. That’s 97 percent of the total combined early ballots that Hispanics cast in the entire 2012 election, according to an analysis from the Associated Industries of Florida, a conservative-leaning business group.
White voters so far have cast 2.6 million early votes eight days out, which is 80 percent of all the early votes they cast in the entire 2012 election. And mixed-race, Asian and other-race voters so far have cast 209,000 ballots, which is 76 percent of their 2012 total.
The lowest-performing group: African Americans. They cast about 421,000 early and absentee ballots as of Monday morning, accounting for 55 percent of the total early ballots that black voters cast in 2012, AIF’s analysis shows.
Excluding public-opinion polls by Republican-leaning groups, Clinton is narrowly winning Florida, according to the averages of the most-recent major public-opinion surveys. Donald Trump needs to carry Florida in order to keep his presidential hopes alive. His path to the White House therefore gets easier if blacks don’t make it to the polls in Florida in big numbers.
Campaigns closely monitor in-person early votes and absentee ballot returns by party. Though the ballots aren’t opened and tallied before Election Day, the numbers are used as a measurement to gauge the health of a campaign because the candidate whose party casts more votes before Election Day usually wins the election.
One big unknown: the 19 percent of independent voters — known as no party affiliation voters in Florida — who have cast ballots so far. About 66 percent of the early NPA voters so far are white and 18 percent Hispanic.
Race and party aside, another problem for Clinton right now might reside with young people. Millennial voters (ages 18-34) generally back Clinton, but they’ve only cast 402,000 ballots so far — 52 percent of their 2012 total, according to AIF. Those over 65 — who are most likely to support Trump — have cast the most ballots so far, 1.6 million. That’s 97 percent of their 2012 total.
Democrats aren’t hiding their concern. They thought they should be ahead in pre-Election Day ballots. And now they’re not. The Clinton campaign admits that one her biggest problems is that she has a tough act to follow: The first black president.
Democrats also hope that the remaining week of early voting — including the Sunday-before-Election-Day “Souls to the Polls” events at black churches — will make the difference.
But for Congressman Hastings, that isn’t enough. He said he’d love to know how much Clinton’s campaign and her allies spent on TV ads in Florida instead of on the ground to motivate black voters. When told by POLITICO that Clinton and her allies have spent and reserved about $57 million in airtime in Florida since her campaign began, Hastings was aghast.
“Jesus Christ. And you can quote me on that,” Hastings said. “Just imagine if they hired someone like Mike, who has a felony record and can’t a job, but for $300 a week, he’ll work for you. And though he can’t vote his mama, and his cousins and everyone he knows will. That makes a difference.”
But Hastings said the campaign just wasn’t hearing it.
That’s no surprise to Leslie Wimes, an African-American activist from South Florida who in September told POLITICO that the Clinton campaign was in “panic mode” over what looked like a lack of enthusiasm by blacks for Clinton. The campaign denied it and Wimes was excoriated on social media by Democrats and liberals for speaking out.
“My reaction is pretty clear: I. Told. You. So,” Wimes said. “All their talk about enthusiasm in the black community was bullshit. Bullshit. In September, I said they had time to fix the problem. Now we’re a week away from the election and they can’t fix it. Let’s hope the Hispanic vote bails her out.”
Leslie Wimes, the president of the Democratic African-American women’s caucus, joins MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson to discuss the Clinton campaign being in “panic mode” about low voter enthusiasm in the black community.
“We love President Obama,” she said. “That doesn’t transfer to Hillary Clinton by osmosis.”
“It’s over now as far as the African-American community is concerned. She had time back then to get into the community and get people out to vote. Now, you know, the numbers are the numbers. There’s nothing she can do now.”
She added: “What I said before is she didn’t have the luxury of being Barack Obama. We are not as enthusiastic about seeing the first woman president as we were about seeing the first African-American.”
LESLIE WIMES: When I said that in September that the enthusiasm level for African-Americans as far as Hillary Clinton’s campaign was not there, I was right. They were wrong. They didn’t want anyone to know they were in panic mode.
I want everyone to know I was right. If they don’t want to admit they were in panic mode they should admit it now. I said then it wasn’t too late. It is too late now.
HALLIE JACKSON, MSNBC: There is nothing she can do?
WIMES: Oh, no. It’s over now as far as the African-American community is concerned. She had time back then to get into the community and get people out to vote. Now, you know, the numbers are the numbers. There’s nothing she can do now.
As far as bringing in all of the surrogates, I said then that wasn’t going to get the African-American community to the polls. It didn’t work. The numbers are the numbers. What she can do now is hope the Hispanic community can carry her over the top. To be honest with you I don’t see it happening.
With the African-American community, you could probably bet they were going to vote Democratic. That was pretty much a sure bet. With the Hispanic community it isn’t as sure of a bet. They could go Republican. They could go Democrat.
The Clinton campaign should have taken my advice and should have gotten into the community and did more to get out the vote. They didn’t do it.
JACKSON: You say it’s over now. There are still seven days left. You don’t think it’s enough to do something to make a last ditch effort? She’s down there today trying to get out the vote.
WIMES: No. What I said before is she didn’t have the luxury of being Barack Obama. We are not as enthusiastic about seeing the first woman president as we were about seeing the first African-American. So, no. I don’t think in seven days she’ll get out there and all of a sudden, magically we’ll say, ‘hey, Hillary Clinton!’ It’s not going to happen. She had an opportunity to get out there and do the things she needed to do and she didn’t do it.
JACKSON: You talk about President Obama. Forcefully making that appeal to get out and go vote for Hillary Clinton. We have heard him say it again and again. We’ll hear it over the next week. Is that going to help?
WIMES: I’m sorry. Say it again.
JACKSON: Will it help that President Obama is making the appeal for the folks to get out and vote, for Democrats to vote now. Do you think it will help with the African-American community that backed him his last two races?
WIMES: Well, Hallie, we love President Obama. That doesn’t transfer to Hillary Clinton by osmosis. We are going to attend his rallies. We are going to be happy to see him. That doesn’t mean we are going to go to the polls to support Hillary Clinton. The numbers show that’s not happening. So, yes, we are going to attend his rallies. We are going to be happy to see him. That’s not going to transfer to the polls. You see that. Like I said, bringing surrogates isn’t going to get people to the polls. It was the engagement of the community. Like I said back in September, that’s what she needed to do. That wasn’t done. You needed to engage the community. It wasn’t done. Having surrogates done. Having rallies, that wasn’t what needed to be done.