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President Obama Courts Black Votes for November Elections

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By Zenitha Prince, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers (DC) –

The ethics trials for U.S. Reps. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., have been set for after the elections on Nov. 15 and Nov. 29, respectively. The announcement, made late last week, prompted the ire of at least one Republican, who said it was motivated by politics.

“This is obviously being pushed back to avoid negative publicity before the Nov. 2 elections,” said Illinois Republican Timothy Johnson in a statement. “If the accused were Republicans, I have no doubt the timing would be different.”

But political analysts and observers said holding the hearings any earlier would have little to no impact on the incumbents’ success at the polls because their majority-Black constituencies would vote for them.

“Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters would have to get in an Eddie Long scandal for voters not to vote for them; they’re set,” said Jason Johnson, professor of political science at Hiram College in Ohio. And other members of the Congressional Black Caucus are also set, Johnson added. “Ultimately, it’s a very small bubble they’re operating in. Black people in these districts think, ‘These folks (lawmakers) may be old and [maybe] corrupt, but that’s all we have.”

The importance of the Black vote in re-electing Black Capitol Hill lawmakers or even adding to the ranks—there’s the potential to pick up House seats in states such as Louisiana, Arkansas, Illinois, Alabama and Florida—pales in comparison to its impact on several gubernatorial races, political experts say. Black voters can be the saviors of the Democratic Party in several of the 37 contests.

“If Black people don’t turn out and vote, a lot of Democrats don’t keep their jobs,” Johnson told the AFRO. He added, “The Mid-west is the most dangerous area for Democrats to lose governorships. [For example,] Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan all look like they can go Republican and these are critical ‘blue’ states.

“These are all places where Black voters are key.”

At stake for Democrats—especially the White House—is the political strength needed to enact policies at the federal and state level, said Democrat Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who represents the Fourth Congressional District in Maryland, another battleground where Black voters can determine whether Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is re-elected or usurped by Republican candidate, former Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

“An energized and activated Black electorate in the Fourth Congressional District in Maryland could make a difference in our election for governor; it could make a difference in the direction of our state,” Edwards said, using the 2010 census and its resulting redistricting process—which determines political representation—as an example. “What happens going into these governor’s races is important to how we’re represented and where these lines are drawn for our representation.”

The centrality of Black voters to Democratic hopes was confirmed last week by President Barack Obama’s personal appeal at a rally at Bowie State University, located in one of the state’s majority-Black counties.

“Right now you have pundits saying the other party’s supporters are more excited,” Obama said. “They’re saying they’ll turn out [to vote] in higher numbers. They’re saying that all of us who worked so hard in 2008 might not be as pumped up, might not be as energized or might not care as much. Maryland, I think the pundits are wrong, but it’s up to you to prove them wrong. Don’t make me look bad now.”

While Obama has a whopping approval rating of 87 percent among African-American voters, some political observers question whether the president can draw them to the polls as he did in 2008. Given the disproportionate toll the recession has wielded on Blacks—a community devastated by foreclosures and by a punishing 16.1 percent unemployment rate—many may feel like Velma Hart, who told President Obama in a town-hall meeting last month that she was "exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now."

Johnson said, “People are confusing and have confused a political campaign with a political movement—campaigns end. What people seemed to believe is that kind of excitement and fervor would continue forever, but it can’t. So, what you have is disaffected African Americans; White liberals who are angry because ‘he didn’t give us “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the public option [in health care]; ‘Black political elites, who are saying, ‘He lost us on that Shirley Sherrod thing’…. People’s expectations were way too high.”

Among her constituents and those of the other CBC members, Edwards said, “People are understandably frustrated with the pace of change and with the state of the economy and I think that has had a tremendous effect on concerns about voter turnout and the strength of the electorate going into the mid-term elections.”

However, she added, she believes voters will turn out and will vote to give the president a chance to live up to his promises.

“[Black voters] have been really concerned about the obvious backlash against this president and are looking at casting their vote in this mid-term election as a statement of support for President Obama,” she said. “We want to send a really strong message into Washington that we support the direction this president is going and we didn’t think it was just about 2008, we know it’s about 2010 and we also know it’s about continuing these policies.”

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