MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And Im Robert Siegel.
With a month to go before the midterm elections and control of Congress at stake, Democrats are scrambling to fire up their base. In particular, they're reaching out to the voters who were so important in electing President Obama two years ago: African-Americans.
NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Democrats are using their most powerful motivator when it comes to black voters: the president himself.
President BARACK OBAMA: The last election was a changing of the guard. Now we've got to guard the change.
ELLIOTT: That was his message at a recent Congressional Black Caucus dinner. But polls indicate the very voters who propelled Mr. Obama to the White House two years ago are not so engaged now.
Mr. TIM KAINE (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Nobody votes in a non-presidential year like it's a presidential year.
ELLIOTT: Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine says the challenge is to reach the 15 million people who voted for the first time in 2008.
Mr. KAINE: That is a body of voters that is 35 percent African-American, is more than 20 percent Latino, is significantly under age 35.
ELLIOTT: To turn out these voters, the DNC is spending more than it ever has to target minority audiences in a midterm election. During the last one in 2006, the party spent about $300,000 on African-American media. This year, it's already spent $2 million on an urban ad campaign - and more is likely.
(Soundbite of a political ad)
Unidentified Man: There is an important election in November and it's called the midterm. Republicans are trying to take over and we have to stop them.
ELLIOTT: But even with radio ads like this, it's not clear the message is getting through.
Ms. AMANDA ODEN (Student, Xavier University): To be honest, I didn't even know it was a midterm election.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ELLIOTT: Amanda Oden is a 20-year-old student at Xavier University in New Orleans, a traditionally black school. She voted for the first time in 2008.
Ms. ODEN: Im like, oh, I get to vote. You know, I'm finally old enough and because, you know, the black president of course. So now I just don't really care. Not I don't really care, but it's just not that exciting as it was before.
ELLIOTT: All eight of the students in this social policy class support President Obama and give him credit for passing the health care overhaul, among other things. But only one relates the president's policies to this election, and they have next to no information about the congressional and state races underway.
New Orleans senior Terrinesha Williams says the outreach just isn't there.
Ms. TERRINESHA WILLIAMS (Student, Xavier University): No fliers, no e-mails, no texts - nothing.
ELLIOTT: And looking around campus, you dont see a lot of campaign signs. And this is a district where Democrats are hoping to win back New Orleans' congressional seat from a Republican.
Right or wrong, these students think it's the candidates' jobs to find them. Twenty-one-year-old Michael Harvey says the Obama campaign was everywhere two years ago.
Mr. MICHAEL HARVEY (Student, Xavier University): And this time, it's just not the case. And I don't feel like it's us not being enthusiastic. But last time, it was like kind of brought to our front door. Like, there's an election, you need to vote. And this time, I didn't even know about it.
ELLIOTT: Nineteen-year-old Kiera McKee says before, she connected to the celebrities, like rapper P. Diddy out to rock the vote. But when it comes to who will control Congress, she just doesn't relate.
Ms. KIERA MCKEE (Student, Xavier University): Just when I think about politics, like usually I could get a mental picture. I see old white men. I'm a young black female, so it's like I have no relationship to it. It's like, okay, they make the laws and then I just have to deal with it.
Professor SILAS LEE (Sociology, Xavier University): And there's a big credibility gap here.
ELLIOTT: Xavier sociologist and pollster Silas Lee teaches this class.
Prof. LEE: Students are saying now: I just don't feel they talking about me. I don't feel that they care. I dont trust them. That is why you're going to see an enthusiasm gap.
ELLIOTT: But Democrats think they can narrow that gap in the next four weeks, in part using the same groups that helped them in 2008. The buzz is underway on black radio. Host Michael Baisden has been telling his five million weekly listeners that now is not the time to go to sleep.
(Soundbite of "The Michael Baisden Show")
Mr. MICHAEL BAISDEN (Host, Radio Talk Show): We have gone through hell to get this man elected. I know you not going to sit back and let this go down. Sarah Palin? Glenn Beck? Are you serious? Are you serious?
ELLIOTT: The NAACP, unions and other civil rights organizations will be marching on the mall in Washington tomorrow to get out the vote.
Debbie Elliott, NPR News.
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