ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
It's hard to argue that last night's Democratic victories can solve the party's challenges. Those challenges came into sharp relief a year ago today when Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election. A critical loss came in the battleground state of Ohio, the state Barack Obama won twice. There and nationwide, Clinton's most reliable voting bloc was African-American women. A year later, NPR's Tamara Keith checks in with some of those voters.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: I sat down last week with three women in Cleveland, Ohio, all politically active, all loyal Clinton supporters. And the way they answered this question was a stunner.
Were you surprised on election night?
MEREDITH TURNER: No.
KEITH: That's Meredith Turner. She's a 44-year-old community activist. Susan Stephens is a 57-year-old orthopedic surgeon and activist.
SUSAN STEPHENS: No. And I was ashamed that I went to bed and just said she's going to lose it.
KEITH: And finally, 70-year-old Lolita McDavid. She's a pediatrician who also does advocacy work for children.
LOLITA MCDAVID: I had told my husband a few days before that I thought he, Trump, was going to win, and my husband was like, don't say that.
KEITH: For Stephens, there had been a creeping feeling that Clinton's message was off, that she wasn't talking about the right things or to the right people. She says Clinton needed to convince white men that she cared about them, too. And it crystallized for Stephens in a moment that from the outside looked like a high point of the Clinton campaign...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FORMATION")
BEYONCE: (Singing) I work hard, I grind till I own it.
KEITH: ...An arena concert the Friday before the election in Cleveland with Beyonce and Jay-Z.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JAY-Z: I would like to introduce to you the next president of the United States, Ms. Hillary Clinton.
STEPHENS: I went to that concert, and I was like, this is the best concert I've ever been to. I called my friend. I'm like, oh, my God, this is awesome. But who cares, right? Everybody is here, you know, celebrating, enjoying the concert. It had no correlation with who was going to go vote.
KEITH: Trump won Ohio by nearly 9 percentage points. It wasn't even close. For these women a year later, there's still a strong sense that the election was about race, a backlash against the Obama presidency that Turner felt growing. At the time, she was working in the office of Ohio Democratic senator Sherrod Brown and heard it in the calls from constituents.
TURNER: They would call us every day, and they would tell us. They would talk about that Obama and they would be very demeaning and denigrating to him. And we could tell that there was something really racial happening, you know, in the country.
KEITH: McDavid puts it this way.
MCDAVID: It's all about race. And I know if you're not black, you don't see that. You think that we really are in this post-racial period. We aren't. Everything is about race.
KEITH: Exit polls show 94 percent of black women chose Clinton, and they turned out in big numbers as they reliably do every single election, voting for Democrats.
MCDAVID: The Democrats take us for granted.
KEITH: Again, Lolita McDavid.
MCDAVID: They assume that they've got us. They don't have to speak to us. We're going to vote for them, and they don't really speak to us. And the Republicans don't try.
KEITH: And yet, these politically active women are as involved as ever. Turner is thinking about running for office.
TURNER: I'm not going to give up, you know, because of a Trump presidency. You know, staying woke right now I think is everybody's obligation.
KEITH: But that doesn't mean they are happy about the state of the country, the things President Trump says and does, the Congress that seems quite willing to go along. And they aren't getting consolation or reassurance from the Democratic Party. Throughout our conversation, they bring up former President Obama more than any other Democratic leader. Again, Turner.
TURNER: I'm really, like, not sure where we are as a Democratic Party anymore because I believe that President Obama is still the leader of the Democratic Party, and I think that's the problem.
KEITH: Stephens says she's still angry at the Democrats for missing what should have been a layup in 2016.
STEPHENS: It's like they're still standing by watching the train wreck. It's just like, what are you doing? What are you doing, DNC? Like, what are you doing?
KEITH: They don't claim to have the answers. And as our conversation winds down, they take the long view.
MCDAVID: I don't believe in a lot of gnashing of teeth because I've - I'm very clear about where we have come as a people. So we survive. We've survived slavery. We've - we survived reconstruction. We've survived Jim Crow South, and still we rise.
STEPHENS: Yes, and still we rise.
TURNER: That's a Maya Angelou poem.
KEITH: Indeed, it is. I checked back in with them this morning to see if last night's big Democratic wins had changed their frustration with the party. The answer was no. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.