Black Voters Remain Loyal To Obama, But Will They Turn Out?

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At this year's Labor Day festival at Luke Easter Park on Cleveland's east side, enthusiasm for the November 6th election was high - and you'd expect it to be. The event isn't just a summer's end tradition for Cleveland's black residents, it's also a day when Democratic politicians rally together and gin up the fall campaign in earnest. The black vote is important to local office-holders, but it's ALL-important to the nation's first incumbent black presidential candidate, Barack Obama. And from this crowd, he'll get it.

JOHN BOYD: "I'm definitely an Obama supporter."

That's John Boyd, who lives in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood. Tanjulla Tyson Wearren of Lee Harvard, another east side neighborhood, is also supporting the President. :08

TANJULLA TYSON-WEARREN: "I think he has done incredible in terms of the affordable health care act…" :08

And Danielle Sydnor of Shaker Heights, another Obama supporter, says she's working to get out the vote in November. :06

SYDNOR: " Four years ago there was a very strong grassroots movement to get him elected and I think that people need to understand that it's very important to have the same type of energy and enthusiasm this election cycle.

These voters take re-electing the President seriously, and they have plenty of company. Mr. Obama enjoys a huge lead among African Americans in the polls, while most put support for Republican rival Mitt Romney at 5 percent or less. Clarence Mingo of Columbus counts himself in that latter group. He's a Republican, the Franklin County Auditor, a former Marine, and was a delegate at the Republican convention. He says in his view, the President has fallen short.

MINGO: "One is the economy. America is not significantly better off than it was four years ago. And also as far as foreign policy is concerned. I see America in a weakened state from a foreign policy perspective.

By all estimates, the number of African Americans who are firmly Republican is very small, and accounts for most of Romney's black support. Among Democrats and Independents, the president remains enormously popular, even despite some disagreement with his positions. For instance, many were disturbed when he proclaimed his support for same-sex marriage last spring. Larry Harris is Senior Pastor at Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Cleveland and President of United Pastors of Mission, a group representing about 100 mostly black congregations.

HARRIS: "My parishioners know that I stick to the biblical teachings concerning things of this nature."

But Harris isn't inclined to re-direct his support to Mitt Romney. He says same-sex marriage is just one of many moral issues a president must grapple with.

HARRIS: "There's a host of moral issues that I believe the President has championed. And if you do well on most things, I'm not going to be distracted by one."

It appears many parishioners agree, like Lucious Cogburn, who spoke to me after Sunday service at Providence Baptist Church in Cleveland…

COGBURN: "I know what the word of God says about those things. But at the same time, we all have to face God with our own decisions ourselves. I have no right to point the finger at anyone."

... and Hazel Stovall, who I met outside Antioch Baptist a few miles away.

STOVALL: "I don't believe in same-sex marriage. Our church don't believe that, I really don't believe that, even if I wasn't going to church, I don't believe in that. I'm still going to vote for Obama."

Of most concern to the President's supporters is whether African Americans will turn out to vote in the same numbers they did in 2008. George Fraser runs Frasernet, an online network of black professionals based in Cleveland that boasts some 60,000 members. He says the excitement over the historic nature of that election has dissipated, and some in the black community who were expecting more from the President than he's delivered may just sit out the vote this time..

GEORGE FRASER 4: "Now that we have changed history we have looked at his hope and change agenda, most are happy, some are not happy, he will pay for that. There will be a price. I think a small price."

All attention is now focused on turnout, which could hinge in part on what happens in the ongoing battle over early voting. Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted continues to fight to eliminate voting during the three days prior to Election Day - a period when, four years ago, 93,000 Ohioans cast their ballots.


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