“This is a man who is fighting for the opportunity for all people to reach the American dream,” said retired Marine Andre Baird, 55, as champagne dripped down his bald head at an Obama victory party in Cleveland on Tuesday night. “These hands,” Baird added, his right hand clenching into a fist, “have knocked on at least a thousand doors!”
African American voters described broad support for Obama, despite some disappointments, and a deep feeling of empathy for the political attacks he endured while attempting to revive a disastrous economy. Expectations for his second term are sky-high, many said.
Analysts, voters and politicians said that a series of episodes here in Ohio — where exit polls showed black voters accounting for 15 percent of Tuesday’s electorate, up from 11 percent in 2008 — were seen by African Americans as efforts to keep them from voting, stirring a profound backlash on Election Day.
“That was a strong motivator because we know we got here through blood, sweat and tears,” said state Sen. Nina Turner (D-Cleveland).
She was among those who fought for the removal of dozens of billboards that appeared in largely black enclaves of Cleveland and Milwaukee declaring “Voter Fraud is a Felony!” and threatening jail time and hefty fines for violators.
Decisions to limit early voting to weekdays also stirred ire, as did a widely reported comment by Doug Preisse, chairman of the Republican Party in Franklin County, who said in an e-mail to the Columbus Dispatch, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.”
When the Obama campaign successfully sued to open polls on the final weekend of the early-
voting period, black voters thronged many polling stations.
The story was similar, if less dramatic, across much of the nation as black voters maintained or heightened their enthusiasm levels from 2008, when Obama was elected the nation’s first black president. Their staunch support helped protect his vote totals as white support shifted to Romney; 95 percent of the Republican’s voters in Ohio were white, exit poll results show.
African American voters expressed far more optimism about the state of the nation. In exit polls, 86 percent of black voters said the country is headed in the right direction, and 70 percent expressed confidence that the economy is getting better. Fewer than half of voters overall expressed either sentiment.