In Tight Race, Black Voters Urged To Turn Out

With days left in the election, the Obama campaign is reaching out to voters who, theoretically, should need no convincing: African-Americans. The president won more than 90 percent of the black vote in 2008. But he wants to make sure black voters turn out in this tight contest.

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There's little doubt that President Obama will win a large majority of the minority vote. Polls this year show the Latino voters supporting him by large margins, and that could make the difference in some swing states. Of course, back in 2008, 95 percent of African-Americans voted for Barack Obama. The key in this election is to get those voters to actually cast their ballots, which is why the president is spending these last days of the campaign reaching out to African-Americans. Here's NPR's Cheryl Corley.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: One of the key states President Obama hopes to win again this year is Wisconsin. Just one day after touring storm-ravaged areas of the northeast, he showed up in Brown County, Wisconsin to talk to voters in Green Bay.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And if you're willing to work with me again and knock on some doors with me and make some phone calls for me and turn out for me, we'll win Brown County again. We'll win Wisconsin again.

CORLEY: Tomorrow and Monday, the president will be in the state again. Tomorrow, he'll be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin's largest city and home to most of the state's African-American residents.

REPRESENTATIVE GWEN MOORE: (Singing) Voters are coming. Oh, yeah.

CORLEY: Earlier this week, Obama supporters gathered at Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee for an early voting rally.

MOORE: (Singing) Voters are coming, voters are coming...

CORLEY: That's Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore leading the crowd in an impromptu campaign song.

MOORE: All right.

CORLEY: This was a Souls to the Polls rally, a push to get churchgoers and others to vote early. Indeed, after the rally, many in the crowd headed across the street to the Zeidler Municipal Building.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hi, there. Are you folks here to vote?

CORLEY: It was the last weekend for early voting in the state. President Obama won Wisconsin by 14 points four years ago. Milwaukee elections commissioner Neil Albrecht says turnout among African-American voters in Milwaukee was huge.

NEIL ALBRECHT: We were providing ballots and registering voters who were 50, 60 and 70-year-olds who had never registered to vote before in the city of Milwaukee.

CORLEY: It's a trend the Obama campaign says continues in all of the battleground states with registration and early voting numbers for African-Americans topping records set in 2008.

(SOUNDBITE OF WIND BLOWING)

CORLEY: Outside Milwaukee's municipal building, Jane Washington said she and her granddaughter, Jessica Griffin, both African-Americans, have voted for President Obama.

JANE WASHINGTON: I think he's looking at everybody's issues and rights. It's like with the - they call it Obamacare. Lord knows I'm grateful for Obamacare, and I hope it stays here, because if it doesn't, I don't know what I would do.

CORLEY: Matthew Smith, also black, says he's been looking for work and may move out of the area to find it, but he continues to support President Obama, too.

MATTHEW SMITH: The situation that the country was in prior to his election, I mean, it was very grave. And we're slowly, but surely coming up. And that's progress. No matter how small, it's still progress.

CORLEY: Despite the president's strong support among black voters, there are some prominent African-American critics and others who suggest the luster of electing the first black president has faded. They point to the double-digit unemployment rate among African-Americans and say President Obama has not spoken out about lingering racism in America the way he has about gay marriage and immigration reform. This week, during an interview with American Urban Radio Networks, President Obama said he has not ignored the concerns of black Americans.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS BROADCAST)

OBAMA: I spend every day in this Oval Office thinking about how to ensure America continues to be a land of opportunity for everybody.

CORLEY: The president said although more needs to be done, there has been progress, with months of private-sector job growth, a health care bill that helped provide access to millions of African-Americans and increase in Pell Grants for college, as well as other initiatives.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (unintelligible).

CORLEY: At the Milwaukee campaign office on Martin Luther King Drive, workers make a few last phone calls to get volunteers for the final push up to Election Day. Michael Blake, the director of Operation Vote, spearheads the outreach to minority voters and says the campaign has never taken the black vote for granted.

MICHAEL BLAKE: Over the last four years, we built deep roots in the community, recruited and trained members of the community. We've engaged in people's neighborhoods. The black community understands that there's a connection with the president. They understand what's happening and understand that we didn't just show up. You know, we've been engaged from day one.

CORLEY: We will see next week whether that message from a black president is as powerful as the prospect of a black president was four years ago. Cheryl Corley, NPR News.

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