Posted on June 19, 2014

Courting Swing Vote in Harlem District: Whites

Michael M. Grynbaum, New York Times, June 18, 2014

There was never a question that race would play a key role in Representative Charles B. Rangel’s re-election fight, a battle for a seat held by two black men since the 1940s, in a district where Hispanics recently became the majority.

But as the heated Democratic primary between Mr. Rangel and an ambitious, Dominican-born challenger, State Senator Adriano D. Espaillat, enters its final days, the candidates are vying for the support of an unexpectedly critical minority: whites.

Elderly Jewish voters in the Bronx have found a smiling Mr. Espaillat at their doors, with pamphlets in hand. White gentrifiers in Harlem were invited to meet Mr. Espaillat at more than a dozen private receptions, many held in their neighbors’ homes.

Mr. Rangel, whose reputation fell sharply among whites after a string of ethical missteps, is striking back: Last week, his campaign targeted the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights, neighborhoods with some of the district’s largest non-Hispanic white populations, with fliers depicting Mr. Espaillat as a marionette, with Republicans like Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin holding his strings.

The jousting over white residents, who have poured into the greater Harlem area in recent years, signifies how gentrification and redistricting have altered the battle lines in the 13th Congressional District, long seen as a stronghold of black political power in New York.

And it speaks to the sharp-edged nature of a primary that could be determined on the margins: 25 percent of the voters who turn out on Tuesday are expected to be white, a smaller portion than Hispanics and blacks but enough to sway the results of a race that was decided by fewer than 1,100 votes two years ago.

“The highest percentage of undecided voters in the district is among whites,” said Bruce N. Gyory, a political consultant not working for either campaign. {snip}

Each candidate remains focused on maximizing turnout among his base. For Mr. Rangel, that means black voters who have helped propel him to 22 terms in the House; for Mr. Espaillat, it is the Hispanic population that now makes up 55 percent of the district, up from 46 percent before a realignment to reflect the 2010 census.