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President Launches 'African Americans for Obama'

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The I.E., a powerhouse in the 2008 campaign asks 'Are we still relevant?'

By Chris Levister –

When President Barack Obama took to the high-tech world of Facebook and Twitter to launch his 2012 African Americans for Obama campaign last week, it was a throwback to more hopeful times in America particularly for millions of black, brown and young voters.

The New York Times called Mr. Obama’s historic 2008 election “a national catharsis — a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Mr. Obama’s call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country.”

“But it was just as much a strikingly symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation’s fraught racial history,” the Times wrote, “a breakthrough that would have seemed unthinkable just two years ago.”

Unquestionably older, grayer and less popular when he took office, Mr. Obama chose Black History Month to call on African American voters to “keep making history.”

“Every day I think of the generations of African-American men and women who overcame slavery and oppression, risked their own safety to cast a ballot, even gave up their lives to help build a country that lived up to its founding principles,” President Obama said in the video.

“Their extraordinary hope, their unwavering determination changed this country. Their efforts made it possible for somebody like me to be here today.”

Mr. Obama is framing his campaign message at a critical time for Black Americans: Even though the nation’s unemployment rate has dropped to 8.5 percent, the Black unemployment rate has climbed to 15.8 percent.

In 2008, 55 percent of eligible Blacks ages 18 to 24 voted on Election Day, and 65 percent of eligible Blacks of all ages voted, according to the U.S. Census. Overall, about 96 percent of them voted for Obama.

The latest Gallup Poll numbers show that Obama is enjoying an 89 percent approval rating among Blacks. But while he has been able to hold on to his base of Black support, the excitement over the president's historic run in 2008 has waned.

Over the past few months, the campaign and the White House have made a stronger push to reconnect with the Black community, after a long summer and fall during which critics like the Congressional Black Caucus, and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) lambasted the president for not doing enough to close the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites or end the double-digit unemployment rates for African Americans.

When blogger, author, journalist and 2008 elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention, Linnie Frank Bailey and delegate Jose Medina co-founded Obama Riverside in the run up to the 2008 presidential election, they worked the phones and knocked on doors throughout the Inland region.

“There was a real sense of hope and change in the air,” recalls Bailey. “Democrats of all stripes came together. We made inroads in historically Republican strongholds.

In 2008 President Obama carried Riverside County, becoming the first Democrat to do so since Bill Clinton in 1992.”

Unfortunately says Bailey much of that momentum has been lost. “Many of those who worked to send the President to the White House today find themselves homeless and struggling to put food on the table,” said Bailey.

Analysts say a major showing by African Americans will be critical for the president again this time around, particularly in swing states where Obama won by a slim margin. According to the Obama campaign, various outreach programs will be unveiled over the coming months in key states such as North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada. According to a recent poll of likely voters in 11 battleground states conducted by Brilliant Corners Research and published by POLITICO, minority support in those states remains strong, despite slight slippage with Latino voters.

While the stakes in November will most likely boil down to the economy and jobs Bailey says looking at the 2012 Presidential race “we have to ask ourselves, 'Are Inland African-Americans relevant to this race?' An even bigger question is, 'Are any Inland residents, regardless of race or party affiliation, relevant?” “We know our area has long been ignored by national (and sometimes) state politicians. This is surprising given the population of our area,” said Bailey. “In the Presidential race, California is not a swing state. . .it is heavily Democratic. Our people will be recruited to man phone banks and travel to swing states to influence voters.

The Latino vote she said is critical in the campaign. “I would not be surprised to see Romney pick a running mate with Hispanic origin. Still, the Republican Party has not been a welcoming place for African-Americans or Latinos and when it's all said and done, we will work on behalf of Barack Obama.”

Longt ime NAACP operative Stefanie Brown will head the Obama campaign’s African American voter outreach initiative going into the election. Operation Vote is geared toward key Democratic constituency groups, including African Americans, Latinos, and Jews, the LGBTQ community, the young and the elderly.

African Americans for Obama includes a number of programs targeting the black community, including one to engage barbershop and beauty salon owners as "opinion leaders" and volunteer recruiters in the community. Other initiatives will include programs to empower and engage black business leaders, civic organizations and students at historically black colleges and universities.

“African-American voters were among the president's strongest supporters in 2008, and I am thrilled to help build that fervor again for 2012,” Brown said in a statement. “The president is going to need our community more than ever this year, and I look forward to working together to win a victory on Nov. 6.”

“Will we recapture the excitement of the first race?” Probably not, says Bailey. But, we do understand the importance of the President being re-elected, “so even though we may not get a visit from Candidate Obama, we will work hard to keep him in the White House.”

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