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Warren’s win fueled by high black voter turnout

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Warren’s win fueled by high black voter turnout
(Photo: Don West)

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson (R) and state Democratic Party Chairman John E. Walsh participated in a recent community forum at Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen to discuss the presidential election and state politics. (Don West photo)


Steve Tompkins, a senior political adviser to U.S. Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren, talks about grassroots campaigning during a recent community forum at Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen. (Don West photo)

Last spring, the Massachusetts Democratic Party was on the ropes.

The state’s most popular and charismatic politician was Republican Senator Scott Brown, Republican candidates were gearing up to expand their gains in the state’s House and Senate and Democrats were still smarting from Attorney General Martha Coakley’s defeat in the special election she lost to Brown in 2010.

As election results rolled in on television screens across the Bay State last Tuesday evening showing Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren with an eight-point lead over Brown, the state’s GOP insurgency fizzled along with the hopes of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

In the end, the Elizabeth Warren campaign prevailed with the help of what many say was the most extensive and sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort in history.

In Boston’s black and Latino communities, where support for Democratic candidates is far higher than the state average, the get-out-the-vote effort was in full swing Tuesday, with the Warren campaign, unions and community-based organizations mounting an impressive effort to push turnout.

“There was a real, conscious effort to put resources in communities of color,” said Steve Tompkins, who worked as a senior policy advisor on the Warren campaign.

Tompkins and others from the campaign crisscrossed the state in the weeks leading up to the election, formulating plans to turn out voters. On Election Day in Roxbury, Democratic activists saturated Boston’s black, Latino and Asian communities, knocking on doors, making phone calls and dropping literature to remind people to vote.

At Warren’s Grove Hall office, dozens of volunteers manned phones, distributed campaign literature and gave orders to campaign volunteers who hit the pavement in Roxbury.

Next door at the William E. Reed Auditorium, union officials from the Service Employees International Union coordinated get-out-the-vote efforts for union activists, dispatching crews of service workers, building tradesmen and members of community-based organizations to knock on doors throughout Boston.

Darrin Howell, an organizer with Mass Uniting — a union-funded grassroots action organization — said more than 1,000 volunteers had come by the auditorium to pick up assignments on Election Day. And that was after many had engaged in months of canvassing.

On Tuesday afternoon, the auditorium was buzzing with activity as crews of building trades workers, service workers and community activists circulated through, picking up assignment folders packed with addresses and maps.

“This is one of the strongest coordinated campaigns I’ve seen in a long time,” said SEIU 1199 Political Director Tim Foley, who manned a table in the auditorium.

The net effect of increased get-out-the-vote efforts, combined with the added push of the presidential election, led to a doubling of the turnout in predominantly black and Latino wards and precincts in Boston over the 2010 Senate special election where Attorney General Martha Coakley lost to Brown.

In 2010, 95 percent of voters in Wards 12 and 14 voted for Coakley, but turnout was light at just 34 percent. This year, turnout and numbers more than doubled with 7,629 voters turning out in Ward 12, up from 3,530 in 2010. In Ward 14, the 11,512 voters who turned out were more than twice the 5,077 who turned out in 2010.

Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh acknowledged that the Democratic Party erred in not mobilizing its base in the 2010 special election.

“It was a terrible mistake,” he said. “But that was corrected this year, especially in communities of color.”

Walsh said the get-out-the-vote effort was the decisive factor in Warren’s victory.

“When the polls opened Tuesday morning it was a dead-heat race,” he commented. “She won by eight points.”

While get-out-the-vote efforts worked well for Warren in black and Latino communities, her campaign didn’t fare well in some of the city’s white neighborhoods. Brown won nearly every precinct in South Boston and picked up three of the highest-voting precincts in the Cedar Grove and Neponset sections of Dorchester’s Ward 16. Brown also polled near 50 percent in several precincts in Charlestown, the North End and the Back Bay.

While Brown campaigned heavily in South Boston, opening his campaign headquarters there, Warren campaigned heavily in communities of color, opening campaign offices in Grove Hall, Ashmont and Lower Roxbury.

Warren also showed up to events, including a candidates forum sponsored by black, Latino and Asian organizations, that Brown declined to attend. Warren also made appearances at the annual Juneteenth celebration and a gala sponsored by the Massashusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, among other events.

“People got to know Elizabeth Warren,” said Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, who campaigned for Warren. “People care about the future of the community and they know there’s a difference between the future of Boston with Brown and with Warren.”

Walsh cited the work of unions and community-based groups like the Coalition for Social Justice in the South Coast region of the state, Neighbor to Neighbor in central and western Massachusetts, the Chinese Progressive Association and other groups as critical to Warren’s victory.

Walsh also noted that a new cadre of black, Latino and Asian activists held key positions in Warren’s campaign, helping her connect with and mobilize the votes in their respective communities. Both the Warren campaign and the Democratic Party learned the importance of engaging with communities of color, according to Walsh.

“The changing demographics in this state is not an academic paper to be written,” he said. “It’s a strategy to win elections.”