Dems spend resources to curb GOP gains with Native voters
Lumbee Tribe proving to be an important political bellwether for the midterms.
WASHINGTON — Democrats may be confronting “the North Carolina blues,” having not won a U.S. Senate race there since 2008, but that doesn’t mean they don’t see a chance to do better. One of their main focuses — today, in fact — is on Indian Country within the Tar Heel State.
Case in point: Robeson County is home to the state recognized Lumbee Tribe, which would be the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River were it ever to re-gain federal recognition. It has approximately 55,000 citizens and, of late, has growing potential to play a major swing role in federal and state elections.
Trying to curb recent GOP gains in Lumbee territory, the Democratic National Committee tonight is sending Chair Jaime Harrison to the area for a community town hall at 6 p.m. ET.
The visit is part of what the Dems are calling a “57-state-and-territory strategy” whereby Harrison is hosting gatherings in Little Rock, Arkansas, as well as in Orlando and Miami, Florida and in Robeson County, North Carolina.
“These events include roundtables with rural, LGBTQ, youth, Latino, Black, AAPI, and Native community members,” according to a DNC statement.
Catch up: The time, focus and money being spent on Robeson County in particular is eye opening, since Dems have long tended to do well with Native populations nationwide. However, they have lost steam with Native Lumbee voters in recent years.
Republicans have sensed an opening, and they, in turn, opened a Pembroke-based RNC Community Center in January, as we previously reported:
Until 2014, Lumbees, like many other American Indians, were Democratic voters, Jarrod Lowery, a former council member with the tribe, told Indigenous Wire.
“Between 2012 and 2014, the Republicans finally decided, ‘Hey, let’s go to Robeson County. Let’s start talking to folks,’” recalled Lowery, a former Marine.
And what did the GOP find there?
“The Lumbee people have always been conservative in nature; we are working-class folk,” Lowery said. “We really want to be left alone, and we have a healthy distrust of the government, because the government has systematically done horrible things to our people over hundreds of years…. We also have a deep Christian tradition.”
After this increased Republican outreach, the tide rapidly turned, culminating in a shift that surprised political scientists in 2016, when Robeson County was called for President Donald Trump at 50.8 percent in his election versus Hillary Clinton. It was the first time a Republican had ever won the county, party officials said.
Trump himself noticed the results, GOP leaders shared, especially because many in the political chattering classes posited that Clinton might be able to pull off a win in the battleground state at large. (She had devoted a considerable amount of resources to doing so.)
Thus, in 2020, Trump and his campaign increased their attention and spending on the rural, largely Native county. The former president even ended up making a rally appearance there – just before the general election – during which the always transactional leader promised to support federal recognition for the Lumbees if they turned out for him.
And turn out for Trump they did – this time with 58 percent of the vote, helping him to carry the state, even though he ultimately lost the election to President Joe Biden by a wide margin in both the Electoral College and popular vote.
Despite Trump’s loss, the lesson of winning the Lumbee vote was not lost on GOP leaders, and they now want to capitalize on it, making it a regular occurrence, and not one that happens only when Trump is on the ticket.
Larger trend? Both DNC and RNC officials are said to be tracking trends of some Native voters turning away from Democrats this midterm election season, given economic uncertainties in particular. It’s a major concern to Dems, because, while the Native population is generally small in most regions of the country, it always has the potential to play a swing vote, and it has done so time and again in tight races across the country.
With presidential races of late ending up quite close in the popular vote in various states, Native votes can and do make the difference. And that’s just on the presidential level.
Meaningful: Natives generally are looking to be better courted, just as their African-American, Hispanic, LGBTQ+ and other counterparts long have been.
“As a Native person who has always felt like we’ve been overlooked – left behind at times, especially being Lumbee – to have the RNC, or any political party, to invest their time, money, effort into our community, to engage our community – it means a lot,” Lowery told Indigenous Wire. “It means that we are no longer overlooked; we are no longer silent.”
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