“Now,” Moore said, “it’s just trying to recapture that.”
In the final sprint to this Election Day, the campaign signs around this Democratic stronghold south of Richmond have given way to signs of unease.
For the past four years, black voters have talked among themselves about waning optimism amid financial struggles, concern about the need to energize African Americans and the feeling that President Obama has not gotten the credit he deserves.
Here in Petersburg, which sits on the banks of the Appomattox River, there also is a steely determination that Obama must be reelected to prove that his 2008 victory was not a historic fluke.
“It is just a moment of pride that you want to continue,” said Petersburg Sheriff Vanessa Crawford, the first black woman to serve in the post. “You don't want to see that go. No.”
Enthusiasm among black voters for Obama, which was key to his victory four years ago, is taking on added significance in the final days before Nov. 6, given what polls show is essentially a tie nationally with Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
African Americans form Virginia’s largest minority — accounting for about 20 percent of the population and a similar share of the electorate. In 2008, the turnout rate among blacks matched that of whites for the first time, said Dustin A. Cable, a demographer at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.
“The big question is whether minority groups will turn out like they did in 2008. That’s not just in Virginia. That’s everywhere,” Cable said. “If they do, Obama looks great. If not, Romney does.”
Since 2008, optimism among black and Latino voters has fallen as those populations have faced high unemployment, said University of Chicago political science professor Michael C. Dawson, who studies race and politics.
“Most black voters are more liberal than the president is on a number of issues,” he said, but added that “most black voters also realize that any president is limited in how much deep structural change they can enact — especially when you don’t have majorities in both chambers of Congress.”
According to the Washington Post-ABC News tracking polls, consistently more than nine in 10 black voters support Obama, which is roughly similar to 2008. But African Americans express less interest in this campaign than they did four years ago.
Sitting on a bench in downtown Petersburg, Timari Gohlson, 21, said she plans to vote for Obama but didn’t give him a ringing endorsement.
“We was worse off before,” said Gohlson, who works as an in-home care provider. “I’m not saying that President Obama does everything correct, but he’s trying.”