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Obama Steps Up Pitch to Black Voters

A vital constituency is being courted as the campaign closes.


Earlier this year, President Obama visited Ben's Chili Bowl, an iconic African-American restaurant in Washington, D.C.(Getty Images)

In the final days before the midterm elections, President Obama and Democrats are intensifying their pitch to black voters, hoping to defy predictions of lower turnout and rescue embattled Democrats in a handful of key states.

Only weeks after the White House deflected pointed questions suggesting the president was intentionally bypassing inner cities and only campaigning in suburbs, the president’s closing schedule definitively gives the answer. The nation’s first African-American president is coming home. And he’s doing it with a determination that Democrats hope can alter the dynamics of several close races.


Just 18 days ago, a very frustrated Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, complained that the president kept visiting Cleveland’s suburbs and was ignoring Cleveland. “I would certainly hope that... as we get so closer to Election Day, that he would take the time to come and talk to the people, his base,” she said then. “He needs to come to the city of Cleveland.”

This weekend, the president will be in the heart of Fudge’s district, in downtown Cleveland. And he’s bringing along Vice President Joe Biden.

He’s also going home to Chicago. And while he may not have the vice president with him there, he is bringing along somebody who may have a tad more appeal for the target audience – Grammy-winning hip-hop artist Common, a Chicago native. Obama will also make a final weekend stop in Bridgeport, Conn., which is over 30 percent African American. Democratic Senate Candidate Richard Blumenthal needs a strong black turnout to defeat his Republican rival, Linda McMahon.


And if the travel schedule did not eliminate the doubts that were just below the surface for many in the black community, the president’s recent interviews should take care of it.

Earlier today, the president granted an interview to April Ryan of American Urban Radio, just the latest in a string of question-and-answer sessions with black reporters and editors. Last week, he took questions on a conference call with about 30 black newspapers, including the Chicago Defender, the Los Angeles Sentinel and the New Pittsburgh Courier.

Three days before that, he spoke with the Trotter Group, an organization of black columnists. And four days earlier he held what the White House billed the first “African American Online Summit,” pitched to organizations including The Root and AOL Black Voices.

The message remained the same. As he told the newspaper editors, “What I say to your readers is, look at what the Democrats did over the past two years, and there were things that were good for America and things that were good on behalf of the African-American community.”


For those not reached by these outlets, the Democratic National Committee this week began airing a radio commercial targeting black voters. The ad includes a clip of the president saying, “We cannot sit this one out.” It is being aired on nationally syndicated black radio shows including those hosted by Al Sharpton, Steve Harvey, Tom Joyner, and Coco Brother.

The ad is part of an unprecedented $50 million campaign by the DNC, dwarfing all previous campaign efforts to mobilize minority voters.

The White House hopes the newfound attention will end the talk of White House neglect of black America. 

The stops this weekend in Chicago and Cleveland could make the difference in the two gubernatorial races and the Senate contest in Illinois, said David Bositis, senior analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

“I can’t recall ever seeing quite this much effort at turning out the black vote in the midterms,” said Bositis, calling Obama’s travel schedule this weekend “very definitely smart politics on his part.”

“This is not a small thing. It is a major element of their political strategy,” he said. “The black vote is and has been for a long time a very key part of the Democratic core constituency. The Democrats tend to do better when they are able to turn out the black vote.”

With the national political tide running so strongly against Democrats, though, Bositis warned that even a strong black turnout may not be enough to keep the House from falling into Republican hands. But, he said, “it could minimize the Democratic losses.”

One key factor noticed by Bositis is that Democrats are not fighting the same battles they did in past midterm elections, when the major challenge was getting black voters registered.

“Remember that 2008 was the first election where black turnout was higher than white turnout. So the preponderance of those voters are now registered. It is not like Democrats have to undertake a major registration effort as they have in the past,” he said.

Bositis recently issued a report showing another reason why the black vote matters this year – there are enough black voters in 14 states with competitive Senate races, and in 20 competitive House districts, that black voters can make the difference.

That includes the three states to be visited by the president this weekend – Illinois, whose voting-age population is 13.8 percent black; Ohio (11.4 percent); and Connecticut (9.7 percent).

Due to an editing error an earlier version of this story declared that President Obama visited a Washington restaurant, Ben's Chili Bowl, with French President Nicholas Sarkozy. In fact, the two leaders visited the restaurant on separate occasions last Winter. 

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