Social Issues Hold Sway Over Ohio's Black Voters

Some black voters in the Youngstown, Ohio, area are expressing reservations about President Obama this year because of his stance on some social issues that offend their religious beliefs. It's unclear, however, how many will sit home or change their votes as a result.

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In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama won nearly all the African-American vote. And this year, a recent poll found that less than 1 percent of black voters will back Mitt Romney. But in Ohio, as NPR's Allison Keyes found out, some black voters are agonizing over whether to vote in November at all.

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ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: The choir rehearses on Saturdays at Friendship Baptist Church in Girard, Ohio. It's a town of 10,000, and Friendship Baptist is a small, friendly-looking building that was once a private home. Girard was good to candidate Obama in 2008, giving him about 60 percent of its vote, partly thanks to a big turnout among the town's African-American minority. But at this black church, some parishioners such as Betty Washington are torn this election.

BETTY WASHINGTON: So I'm really in prayer as to what to do, whether to vote, and I've never not voted. But it's very disheartening to me to hear some of the things that are going on.

KEYES: Betty Washington is more concerned with where the nation is headed morally than economically, and that puts her and others here at odds with some of the stances President Obama has taken. Lurie Richardson(ph) is an educator who says she's always supported the Democratic ticket, but she's not so sure she will this time.

LURIE RICHARDSON: As a supporter of President Obama, I am discouraged by his stance on alternative marriage styles.

KEYES: Brian Hughes is still deciding what to do as well. He doesn't support same-sex marriage either, but he works at the General Motors plant near here and says the president saved hundreds of jobs in the area.

BRIAN HUGHES: You can somewhat favor President Obama for what he's done in the auto industry, but there's also other things that he actually does that would raise an eyebrow.

KEYES: Friendship's pastor Julius Davis thinks the Obama administration is trying to minimize the impact of Christian churches.

REVEREND JULIUS DAVIS: The thing about President Obama is he said a whole lot of stuff that is negative as far as Christians.

KEYES: Davis says he's not a huge fan of Republican mitt Romney, but...

DAVIS: If I were to vote today, I'd vote for Romney.

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KEYES: Minutes from Friendship is the city of Youngstown, home to New Bethel Baptist Church. New Bethel's pastor, Kenneth Simon, is a voting rights activist and told his parishioners on a recent Sunday that the thought of people not voting would have made his hair stand on end, if he had any.

REVEREND KENNETH SIMON: We need to make sure that our voice is heard.

KEYES: The church has been sending a mobile unit around the area to help register voters. Simon isn't telling his flock whom to vote for, but back in his office, he talked about how President Obama is beginning to turn things around. Simon also discussed how wrong he thinks it would be for folk not to vote over a single issue like same-sex marriage.

SIMON: We cannot be single focus on just one issue and allow that to particularly cause us to not even exercise the right to vote.

KEYES: Charlie Staples has owned the Youngstown barbecue joint that bears his name since 1974. He supported President Obama financially in 2008, and he says the president has helped revitalize this area by bringing back some of the auto and steel industry jobs.

CHARLIE STAPLES: He has done an awful lot here in the valley to help in terms of jobs and getting people back to work.

KEYES: Like several other African-Americans told NPR, Staples stressed that the president needs to do more to get jobs to young blacks in this area and the chance to get into unions that some say haven't been very hospitable to people of color.

But Tracey Winbush, the woman people jokingly call the only black Republican here, says she doesn't think President Obama deserves a second term because he has not been helping African-Americans.

TRACEY WINBUSH: President Obama does not care about black people in America.

KEYES: Why do you say that?

WINBUSH: Because he hasn't done anything for them since he's been there.

KEYES: Winbush hosts an AM radio talk show called "Tracey and Friends," and she says the economic recovery here Obama supporters talk about isn't really touching the African-American community.

WINBUSH: African-Americans are not getting jobs here.

KEYES: At least Winbush and others say not the high-paying jobs that will keep them in the middle class. Jason Whitehead has been unemployed since 2011. He still supports Mr. Obama but says...

JASON WHITEHEAD: People of color are pulling for him but also saying, come on now...

(LAUGHTER)

WHITEHEAD: ...work some magic and make this thing work.

(LAUGHTER)

KEYES: In 2008, there was very little ambivalence about candidate Obama in the black community, but in 2012, he'll need every single vote he can get in that community to win Ohio again. Allison Keyes, NPR News.

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