WASHINGTON — Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez addressed NBA legend Charles Barkley’s critique of his party during a Wednesday press conference call in which he discussed Doug Jones’s upset victory in Alabama’s special Senate election. Perez suggested he agreed with Barkley’s view that Democrats have taken low-income and African-American voters “for granted.”
“We have to earn back the trust of voters. I heard Charles Barkley loudly and clearly, and I accept his challenge for the Democratic Party moving forward,” Perez said.
Jones became the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama in 25 years when he defeated Republican Roy Moore on Tuesday following sexual misconduct allegations against the former judge. Jones’s victory was heavily aided by African-American voters, who turned out in even larger numbers than they did in the 2012 presidential election when Barack Obama, the first black president, was running for his second term. And the African-Americans who voted in Alabama on Tuesday overwhelmingly backed Jones, with 93 percent of black men giving him their vote and 98 percent of African-American women putting their support behind him, per exit polls.
Barkley, an African-American Alabama native who campaigned for Jones, said this should be a “wake-up call for Democrats” during an interview from Jones’s victory party, which aired on CNN Tuesday night.
“Democrats … they’ve taken the black vote and the poor vote for granted for a long time. It’s time for them to get off their ass and start making life better for black folks and people who are poor,” Barkley said. “They’ve always had our votes, and they have abused our votes. … This is a wake-up call for Democrats to do better for black people and poor white people.”
On the conference call the morning after the race, Perez did not dispute Barkley’s claim.
“I think it’s undeniable that, in the past, the Democratic Party all too frequently took voters for granted, especially in communities of color, also frequently as well in rural pockets of our nation. And we’ve suffered the electoral consequences from that,” Perez said.
Democrat Hillary Clinton’s loss to President Trump in the 2016 presidential race has widely been attributed to weakening support among working-class white voters. Clinton also saw less African-American turnout than Obama. Black voters generally back Democrats and are a key part of the party’s coalition.
Perez — who took the reins of the DNC in February and is the first Latino chair of the committee — promised to rebuild the party following Clinton’s loss. In recent months, the party has been on a winning streak in key races with the win in Alabama and victories in gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia. During the conference call on Wednesday, Perez repeatedly described Jones’s victory as evidence of a “new Democratic Party” and said “the days of taking voters for granted are in the rearview mirror.”
“The new DNC is all about organizing in every zip code, leading in every zip code, talking to people and building relationships in every ZIP code,” said Perez. “We understand that so many minority communities across this country, they deserve our attention. They’ve earned our attention, and the new Democratic National Committee is engaging just that.”
Yahoo News asked Perez what strategies the DNC used to boost Jones’s turnout and whether they expect to be able to replicate that success in other races. Perez said almost all of the nearly $1 million the DNC invested in the Alabama Senate race was spent on African-American and millennial turnout. He also said the DNC has increased its investment in state party organizations to focus on “critical communities” and built a $10 million “innovation fund” focused on black, Latino, millennial and rural voters. Specifically, Perez described the African-American vote as key to the party’s future.
“The African-American vote was the linchpin of Doug Jones’s success,” Perez said. “And once again we saw what we’ve seen across the nation: African-Americans generally and African-American women are the backbone of the Democratic Party.”
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