The Native American Vote

By Sean Reagan

A big part of the rural vote in any state is the Native Americans. Democrats traditionally win the broadest swath of these votes but McCain, who is a past chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, is not conceding that vote.

Politico reports that Obama has been consistently meeting with tribal leaders while campaigning – low-key affairs that will go a long way to cementing this critical rural bloc.

Making up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population and concentrated mostly outside key primary states in past election years, Native Americans are seeing an uptick in prominence because of political and geographic realities.

The prolonged primary season has pushed the contest into states with larger Native communities — states that typically voted too late to attract much attention from presidential candidates. With the emergence of the Mountain West as the newest general election battleground, the Native vote is more highly sought after than ever since it has proven to be mobilized and instrumental in recent statewide races.

“This has never, ever happened before,” said Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, which is neutral in the race. “In 2004, we thought it was a landmark when we got a majority of the candidates to make a statement to Indian Country and come to our conference.”

Obama has met with tribal leaders in North Carolina, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Montana and South Dakota. He has also promised to appoint an American Indian policy adviser to his senior White House staff.

And John McCain? Well, he was in Wisconsin today. Wisconsin is an Algonquian word that means “gathering of waters.” There are eleven federally recognized Native American tribes in the state.

Think McCain had anything to say about them? Nope.

Maybe he’s meeting with them tonight, right? Actually he’s at a fundraiser in downtown Milwaukee.

So what did McCain have to say?

McCain hit Obama, including picking up the recent theme of questioning why Obama has not visited Iraq or met with Gen. David Petraeus about the situation there.

“Now, I said I’d go with him,” McCain said of Obama. “He doesn’t want to do that. The point is he needs to go and he needs to go soon.”

McCain also criticized Obama for his stated willingness to meet with leaders of Iran, Cuba and other countries.

I guess nobody told him that less than a quarter of Wisconsin voters care about the war. Then again, when that’s all a man’s got to talk about . . .

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12 Responses to “The Native American Vote”

  1. I would have to believe that this is a huge opportunity in terms of registering voters.  My gut tells me they may be 2% of the poplation but less than that in terms of registered voters.  Any idea?

  2. I didn’t know that Obama’s outreach had been that extensive. He’s not leaving any possible vote untouched. I really appreciate the outreach. He’s thinking forward.

  3. McCain doesn’t want to talk about Native Americans for fear Jack Abramoff comes up.

  4. I think you’re right, Tara, though it depends on the state. In Montana, for example, Native Americans are 6% of the registered voters (and they head to the polls on June 3 – be fun to see how they vote). In Indiana, on the other hand, they’re less than half a percent.

  5. “I guess nobody told him that less than a quarter of Wisconsin voters care about the war.”

    Way off, Sean.  The poll you linked says less than a quarter (22%) think the war is “the most important electoral issue.”  That’s hardly the same as saying the other 78% don’t “care” about it.  Sorry, but when it comes to fact-checking, I’m stricter with my allies than my enemies, as it’s important for us to keep our credibility in this ideological battle.

  6. I’m pretty amazed at what I have been seeing in terms of the candidates trying to cultivate the Native American vote. This is going to be a historic election in a number of ways – lets just hope they keep some of their promises towards the Native Americans in terms of giving them a more equal voice once they get into office.

  7. Thanks for your thoughts, Jurgan.  I stand by my point, though – McCain is hammering an issue that most of the electorate are just not focused on.  In all the states I’m looking at, voters are pointing to the economy, health care, gas prices etc.  Iraq is one of the few issues where McCain consistently polls even or ahead of Obama so it’s no mystery why he wants to put it front and center.

    We can mince words – sure, I could have written “less than a quarter of voters point to the war as their biggest concern” or whatever – but that hardly translates to being “way off.”

    Thanks for reading!



  8. Nellcote – I think you hit the nail on the head.

  9. Tara — not just targets for voter registration, but also for election protection. There were reports in 2004 that likely Republican operatives were staking out polling places near reservations, writing down license plates (which is illegal voter intimidation.) I’d be willing to bet that Native Americans are second only to African Americans as targets of GOP vote suppression.

  10. And I agree with the general point, but I still think it’s important to be factually accurate.  Otherwise, your credibility suffers and you get perceived as a lying, left-wing shill.

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  12. […] who is a past chairman of the Senate indian Affairs Committee, is not conceding that vote. Pol And Pieces Of History South Shore News & TribuneIt was a relatively short and not particularly […]

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