Young Americans turn out to protest. Democrats hope they will vote, too
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[June 26, 2020]
By Michael Martina and John Whitesides
(Reuters) - Quintez Brown took to the
streets in Kentucky to join many Americans in protesting against racial
injustice after the death of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody
The 19-year-old student at the University of Louisville, who is Black,
also texted voters in support of Charles Booker, a Black Democratic
state lawmaker running for the U.S. Senate.
"The protests showed the importance of having someone in a political
office who can actually advocate for us and make a change," Brown said,
adding it was his first time working on a political campaign.
The uprising after Floyd's death under the knee of a white police
officer on May 25 has helped fuel a groundswell of political energy,
spurring new voter registrations, record turnout in Georgia and Kentucky
primaries and a string of victories for a younger generation of
candidates of color in Tuesday's elections.
Democrats hope the enthusiasm can be sustained until the Nov. 3 general
election, when former Vice President Joe Biden will challenge Republican
President Donald Trump in a race that could hinge on the turnout of
voters of color and young people.
Biden, whose foundering campaign was rescued by mostly older Black
voters in South Carolina's primary in February, wants their strong
support against Trump. It will be crucial in battleground states such as
Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, particularly after the first dip
in Black voter turnout in 20 years contributed to Democrat Hillary
Clinton's loss to Trump in 2016.
Biden also hopes to boost turnout among young voters, who often
participate at lower rates than other ages. In 2016, voters between 18
and 29 had a turnout of just 46%, compared to 71% for those 65 years and
older, Census figures show. That figure dropped from 2008's historic
election, when younger voters had a 51% turnout.
"There is not a part of the Democratic electorate that is not activated
right now. And that energy is going to spill over into the general
election," said Matt Erwin, a Kentucky-based Democratic strategist.
Some groups that work to register voters have seen signs of that energy.
Voto Latino, which looks to boost turnout for young Hispanics, said it
has registered 94,513 voters so far in June, compared to 10,548 voters
in May. About 78% of new registrants were between the ages of 18 and 34,
the group said.
Rock the Vote, which works to boost the political power of young people,
said it had more than 183,000 new registrations so far in June. Four
years ago this month, it had fewer than 35,000.
Jesse Moore, a Rock the Vote board member, said a new generation of
voters is asking about their district attorneys and police chiefs.
"People are jaded about the presidency, but the changes they are
demanding are almost completely driven by local officials," Moore said.
Whether that energy will transform into Biden support remains to be
seen. He is considering a Black running mate and has backed police
reforms, including a ban on chokeholds.
Biden was also criticized during the Democratic primary campaign for his
role as a U.S. senator in writing the 1994 crime bill, which critics say
led to high incarceration rates that unfairly hit minorities, and some
activists have pushed him to offer a broader criminal justice plan in
the wake of the protests. [nL1N2DL1HD]
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Kentucky State Representative and Democratic candidate for U.S.
Senate Charles Booker arrives at a campaign stop on the day of the
primary election in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. June 23, 2020.
"Up-ballot candidates can benefit from this energy and movement, but
only if they align themselves with what the movement has demanded -
bold change," said Victoria Burton-Harris, a Black Democrat who is
running for prosecutor in Wayne County, Michigan, an important
Still, Democrats are hopeful that rising political activism from
young and minority voters will help Biden. According to a June 10-16
Reuters/Ipsos poll, Biden led Trump by 58 percentage points among
African Americans, 23 points among Hispanics, and 20 points among
people between 18-34 years of age. Nationally, he had a 13-point
lead over Trump, the poll showed.
"I think they are looking for someone who is going to hear them, but
also who is going to exhibit the leadership they want at this
moment. We would argue thatís Joe Biden," said Symone Sanders, a
senior Biden campaign adviser.
Courtney Parella, a Trump campaign spokeswoman, said Biden was
"trying to avoid an examination of his nearly five-decade long
political career, a record that undoubtably failed to support
minority communities and is now failing to defend our men and women
Democrats have been heartened by strong turnout in Georgia's June 9
elections, where the party broke the primary record set in 2008
despite a host of problems with voting machines, fewer polling
places and long lines.
Kentucky's elections on Tuesday also set a primary turnout record,
helped by a competitive race between Booker and well-funded
establishment favorite Amy McGrath for the right to challenge Senate
Republican leader Mitch McConnell in November. The race is too close
to call with absentee ballots pending.
A wave of other young candidates of color have scored primary
victories this year. In New York, Jamaal Bowman, a Black school
principal running in his first political campaign, beat 31-year
veteran Democratic Representative Eliot Engel on Tuesday.
"People finally understand that if we want to change the laws, we
have to change the lawmakers," said Quentin James, founder of the
Collective PAC, a group working for the election of progressive
Jecorey Arthur, 28, a Black musician and educator running for the
Louisville Metro Council, said when he announced his campaign late
last year he was told "don't talk about race so much, people aren't
ready to have that conversation."
A few months later, once the street protests for racial justice
began, he heard a different tune.
"It was like the alarm was going off and you couldn't press snooze
no matter what," Arthur said. "I went from beating that racial
justice drum by myself to being in a marching band."
(Editing by Soyoung Kim and Aurora Ellis)
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