'Sovereignty is on the ballot': Pay attention to the 2022 Native American vote
Tight midterms mean Indigenous swing voters matter all the more.
WASHINGTON — CNN may have listed the American Indian vote as “something else” during the 2020 national election season, but in what is widely predicted to be a tight midterm battle in a number of local, state and national races, the U.S. Indigenous vote will matter more than ever this year, according to major GOP and Dem party insiders.
“Pennsylvania is, surprisingly, a place to watch,” one Democratic official tells Indigenous Wire. “There are no federally-recognized tribes in Pennsylvania, but there are at least 21,000 people in the state who identify as Native, which is enough of a population to make a meaningful difference.”
Native voters are an especially important population to watch — and to court — if you’re Republican Memet Oz or Democrat John Fetterman, who are vying for an open U.S. Senate seat in the Keystone State — and especially if your polling is showing a dead heat after Fetterman’s poor recent debate performance against Oz.
Note to the candidates: Lenape citizens number in the hundreds in the state, and if you can figure out a way to mobilize them, that would help.
“People don’t realize just how many Natives Americans live across the country — in all states, including Alaska — which is one reason Mary Peltola won her recent special election (and) is polling ahead of her Republican counterparts,” the same Dem insider said, championing the Alaska Native candidate who has made protecting salmon and jobs a centerpiece of her ongoing campaign.
Alaska Native voters are believed to be widely supporting Peltola in her rematch against Republicans Nick Begich and Sarah Palin, although polling in the Last Frontier State is notoriously difficult.
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Likewise in conservative Kansas, Ho-Chunk Nation citizen and current Dem U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids is performing much better than expected in her re-election bid (apparently up 14 points, according to recent polls), partly because Native activists are fundraising for her. Several people associated with the recent Peacock Native-focused television program Rutherford Falls have lately been recruited to raise money and enthusiasm for Davids. They have reportedly pulled in tens of thousands of dollars on her behalf, and it’s apparently made a difference.
Native voters will also be crucial in obvious places states such as Oklahoma, where Markwayne Mullin, currently a Republican U.S. House representative and a Cherokee Nation citizen, is running for Senate. He now has a major lead and much support among tribal officials in the Sooner State. He’d be the only Native in the Senate, if elected, which is important, policy-wise, to tribal citizens nationwide.
Kevin Stitt, the current GOP governor of Oklahoma who is also Cherokee, is meanwhile finding tribal support to be elusive after mounting several battles with Native citizens in his state during his tenure.
Notably, top officials with both the Democratic and Republican parties are pulling out some of the traditional financial stops to try to get Native voters engaged this election cycle.
Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, is said to be spending extra time and resources trying to encourage Native voters to turn out for candidates who may appreciate pro-economic messaging.
While it’s known in some circles that the RNC is attempting to encourage the Native vote in Indian Country including Lumbee territory in North Carolina, there is a greater GOP effort ongoing in places such as Washington state, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada and other places with large tribal communities — and where polling has tightened in recent weeks. Connecting with urban Indians is also a goal.
More money is reportedly being spent in 2022 in Native-populated areas by the GOP than in 2020, according to Republican officials who have seen spending data across several states and localities.
The Democratic National Committee, concerned that Republicans may be peeling off more Native voters than usual in a typical election cycle, is also spending more time and money on the Native vote this year, according to party insiders.
The trend line for the Indigenous vote, the DNC fears, may be following that of Black and Hispanic voters, who, according to some polling data, have been leaning slightly more Republican in their preferences in recent times.
Thus, the DNC has worked overtime on get-out-the-vote drives, as well as at reducing polling place obstacles, and propping up tailored messaging, especially on economic and cultural and social issues that tend to appeal to Natives.
Also of note: since it takes more effort and money to track and poll Native voters, their vote is often taken for granted by both parties as being in the Democratic column, since some larger reservation-based populations, like Navajo, tend to vote Democratic.
Election 2022, party officials say, has the opportunity to provide more data points to prove whether specialized Native messaging and increased resources are worthy of increased attention going forward.
Indigenous organizers are certainly hopeful: “The 2022 midterm election is an inflection point to further build Native peoples’ visibility and political power by ensuring that Native voices are heard,” according to a Native GOTV collective known as Natives Vote 2022. “Our communities have untapped power because of our history, our ancestors — we must use it in many ways from the streets to the ballot box. Our collective power is necessary to move our work forward.”
Their slogan: “This year, sovereignty is on the ballot.”
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