Clinton renews pitch to black voters
President Obama says legacy on the line
With Donald Trump surging in the polls, advocates are sounding the alarm that Hillary Clinton could fail to generate the turnout levels among black voters that President Obama did in 2008 and 2012 — voters she will need to hold off Mr. Trump in the handful of battleground states that could ultimately decide the election.
“She knows something has to happen,” said Leslie Wimes, president of the Florida-based Democratic African-American Women’s Caucus. “I do think that they’re in full-blown panic mode.”
Without Mr. Obama on the ticket, “black people are not going to come out,” Ms. Wimes said, underscoring the grim electoral reality.
Black voters in 2012 cast ballots at a higher percentage than white voters for the first time in modern recorded history — and helping Mr. Obama to an easierthan-expected re-election victory.
Fearing a drop-off, Democrats are attempting an all-hands-on-deck approach, deploying Mr. Obama and his wife Michelle to try to boost enthusiasm and making direct overtures to black voters.
During Monday’s presidential debate, Mrs. Clinton criticized Mr. Trump for “racist” business practices, and has hammered him for promoting the “racist lie” that Mr. Obama, the United States’ first black president, wasn’t born in his native Hawaii.
For his part, Mr. Obama has mocked Mr. Trump for saying the black community is in historically bad shape in a country once home to slavery, and has recently taken to putting the 2016 election in starkly personal terms.
“The notion somehow that well, you know, I’m not as inspired [because] Barack and Michelle, they’re not on the ballot this time and maybe we got to take it easy — my legacy’s on the ballot,” Mr. Obama said this week during an appearance on Steve Harvey’s radio show, which is popular among black audiences.
Priorities USA Action, the main proClinton super PAC, is also using similar comments from the president’s speech at a recent Congressional Black Caucus Foundation event in a new television ad campaign in Ohio, North Carolina and Florida.
“After we have achieved historic turnout in 2008 and 2012, especially in the AfricanAmerican community, I will consider it a personal insult — an insult to my legacy — if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election,” Mr. Obama said. “You want to give me a good send-off ? Go vote.”
In addition to Mr. Harvey’s program, which Mrs. Clinton also appeared on recently, the campaign is also targeting black voters through other media.
Terrence J, an actor and TV personality who has been a host on Black Entertainment Television, cut a recent radio ad touting Mrs. Clinton’s plan to invest $25 billion in historically black colleges and universities.
“It’s on us to get everybody in Florida registered by the Oct. 11 deadline, and let’s get everybody voting for Hillary,” he says.
Nationwide, Mr. Obama carried 95 percent of the black vote in 2008 and 93 percent of the black vote in 2012, according to exit polls.
And 66 percent of African-Americans eligible to vote turned out, compared to 64 percent for white turnout, according to U.S. Census data. In 2008 white turnout had been 66 percent and black turnout had been 65 percent.
Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in her travels to battleground states like Colorado, Florida and Nevada that she is seeing enthusiasm on the ground, though she acknowledged there’s still work to do.
“When you talk to African-Americans about what Secretary Clinton’s platform is and what she stands for … people get very engaged,” she said on a recent conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee.
“I’m very optimistic, but we know that we have a lot of work to do,” she said.
Mr. Trump has recently tried to reach out with appearances at largely black churches. He’s also asked African-Americans what they have to lose by voting for him, since he says Democratic policies have failed the black community for so long.
“I don’t think African-Americans are going to come out and vote for Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Trump said at a campaign event in New Hampshire Thursday. “They’re too smart and they know they’re just being used by her and her campaign.”
Bishop E.W. Jackson, a black minister based in Chesapeake, Virginia, said Mr. Obama’s recent overtures demonstrate that a lot of his support was strictly racial and that Mrs. Clinton simply doesn’t have the same kind of solidarity, saying a bit of movement toward Mr. Trump could go a long way.
“I think even if he doesn’t take a lot of votes away from her, I think if he gives people pause and gives them a reason to feel that I don’t necessarily want to vote for Hillary Clinton — maybe I don’t want to vote for Donald Trump either, but I certainly don’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton — I think that that could make a major contribution to his ultimate victory,” said Mr. Jackson, the 2013 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in Virginia.
Ms. Wimes, originally a supporter of Sen. Bernard Sanders, did say she’s voting for Mrs. Clinton, but suggested the Democratic nominee do something more tangible, like release a 100-day plan for the black community.
“She can’t just say ‘black lives matter,’” Ms. Wimes said. “We know that black lives matter. She has to get out there to give us something tangible that says maybe she is going to do something for the black community — something that we can put our hand on.”