How Democrats Are Using #Ferguson to Turn Out Black Voters

The political strategy behind an Obama speech and a startling ad campaign.

On Monday night, Al Sharpton opened his MSNBC show Politics Nation with the latest "details from the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown." Oh, and a few minutes later, he previewed a clip from his forthcoming interview with President Obama. The president wanted Sharpton's audience to know something about embattled Senate Democrats in red states.

The bottom line is, these are all folks who vote with me. They have supported my agenda in Congress. They are on the right side of minimum wage. They are on the right side of fair pay. They are on the right side of rebuilding our infrastructure. They're on the right side of early childhood education.

So, this isn`t about my feelings being hurt. These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me. And I tell them, I said, you know what, you do what you need to win. I will be responsible for making sure that our voters turn up.

The punditocracy stood athwart Twitter, yelling "gaffe." Conservative groups quickly switched out the "my policies are the ballot" items in their ads and inserted the new line. Jonathan Martin (on CNN) had probably the most sensible critique of Obama's quote, that this was the message Democrats usually broadcast on black radio stations closer to the election. 

And that was the point: In the key Senate race states where black votes can rescue the Democrats, early voting has just started. Black caucus members just wound through Louisiana on a GOTV bus tour to boost Senator Mary Landrieu. In Georgia, Jim Galloway has obtained the mailer that the state Democratic Party is sending out to black voters, linking the election to the killing of Michael Brown. A sample:

That's a stark appeal to black voters to show up or expect to be governed by unaccountable, mostly white conservatives. Sharpton's Obama interview was actually a part of this push. His National Action Network has launched a campaign called #HandsUpVote, a callback to the Ferguson protest mantra "Hands up, don't shoot."

This is the sort of visceral, vote-or-die appeal that's usually deployed by the NRA or by... well, by Vote or Die, but it's been a while. To conservatives, the explicitness of the pitch is outrageous, though the Georgia mailer hasn't generated as much as the one a Fayetteville Observer reporter found in North Carolina.


This message, according to Tommy Christopher, is now being investigated by police and the Secret Service. In the meantime, the rawness of the appeals is shocking the people who aren't necessarily supposed to notice them. The messaging of 2012, which churned this electorate into a backlash at early voting cutbacks, was more effective than Republicans predicted. The Ferguson messaging and appeals from the president are being deployed because Democrats think they'll work.