Obama Campaign Looks To Black Churches In Fla.

In the closely contested battleground state of Florida, the Obama campaign is trying to drive up the number of votes from its base. A key mechanism is the network of black churches throughout the state.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The northeastern superstorm arrives in a stormy election season. Millions of people have already voted, and we're eight days away from Election Day, which is when a good campaign organization gets out its voters. Political pros note that superior organization can add a couple of percentage points to your total - enough to transform an election that's this close. We have reports, now, on the get-out-the-vote efforts in two battleground states, starting with NPR's Greg Allen in Miami, Florida.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Early voting began this weekend in Florida. And in Miami, it started with singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CAPELLA SINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR MEMBERS: (Singing) Oh, this is the day that the Lord has made, yeah...

ALLEN: The sun was just beginning to come up. And at the county government building in downtown Miami, 100 people were already in line, waiting for the polls to open. Nearby, choir members from New Birth Baptist Church were singing, and ministers from all over the city were on hand for a rally to help get out the vote. It was part of the Souls to the Polls weekend. Across the state, African-American churches worked to get their members out to the polls. In Miami, New Birth Baptist Church senior minister Victor Curry dubbed the effort "Operation Lemonade."

THE REV. VICTOR CURRY: They've made it more difficult, in America, to vote. And instead of becoming bitter and sour and upset, we decided we would become proactive, and that we would turn the lemon into lemonade.

ALLEN: Curry's talking about new voting restrictions in Florida. Earlier this year, the state's Republican-led legislature cut back the early voting period from 14 to eight days, eliminating the last Sunday before the election. In 2008, Democrats in Florida used early voting far more than Republicans. And for African-Americans, that final Sunday was especially important. They cast one-third of the total ballots on the last, early voting day. At the early voting station in downtown Miami, Karen Dacres and Janet Holmes, who had just cast ballots for President Obama, said they don't think the reduced days for early voting, this year, will affect the outcome.

KAREN DACRES: No, I don't think so because I think people - is getting out early.

JANET HOLMES: Exactly.

DACRES: To make sure - they're pumped.

HOLMES: They're ready to ready to get it going, so...

DACRES: Yes. Everybody's excited. A lot of people are excited.

ALLEN: Across Florida this weekend, early polling stations were packed. At many locations, people waited in line for three or four hours, to cast votes. For Democrats, it's a good sign. On Saturday, the first day of early voting, nearly 40,000 more Democrats cast ballots than Republicans. At the early polling station in Miami, Dacres and Holmes said they think it's a sign voters are energized.

DACRES: I think a lot of people here - is very excited about Obama, you know, and - I mean, when you judge what he has accomplished; you know, people know he stabilized the economy.

ALLEN: Despite the big turnout this weekend, some new polls suggest Democrats may not have the same energy as they did four years ago, in Florida. At an early voting station in Cutler Bay, south of Miami, Cordelia Gonzales tried to explain why.

CORDELIA GONZALES: Maybe people thought that he was going to be a miracle worker, and they're not seeing things happen as quickly as they thought they were going to happen. But, you know, we were in dire straits, so it's going to take a while.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH SERVICE)

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR MEMBERS: (Singing) Lord, I will lift...

ALLEN: Yesterday, African-American ministers across the state took the early vote message directly to their congregations. At New Birth Baptist Church in Miami, the guest speaker was activist and minister Al Sharpton. He talked about the civil rights struggle over the right to vote; and the Romney agenda, one he said would hurt African-Americans.

THE REV. AL SHARPTON: Everything that we fought for, is at stake. So if you don't appreciate the past, you'd better vote for the present.

(CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

ALLEN: President Obama carried Florida, four years ago. This election, though, most statewide polls show Republican Mitt Romney with a narrow lead. Democrats are hoping they can take advantage of early voting, and mobilize enough Obama supporters to prove those polls wrong.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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