Down the block from Hill’s salon, at Traditionz restaurant, Dwight Fields, a 33-year-old barber, said some of this “disrespect” could be erased by Obama’s reelection.
“If he does well as a black president, we’ll have another black president,” Fields said. “We got young children who think they can be anything now.”
To underscore its focus on this area, the Obama campaign is sending first lady Michelle Obama to Petersburg on Friday to rally voters at Virginia State University, a historically black institution.
Campaign workers and volunteers are once more visiting beauty salons and barber shops and have appointed congregation captains and DJs to boost the vote among black churchgoers and young voters.
Lise Clavel, the campaign’s Virginia state director, told reporters that in the past couple of weekends, the campaign hosted nearly 1,700 canvasses and phone banks and is planning the largest grass-roots campaign in the state’s history.
At a recent Wednesday night Bible studies class at Petersburg’s Tabernacle Baptist Church, attendees expressed support for Obama and said the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, which Obama supports, has not created a rift.
“There is a biblical position, but we have to separate church and state,” said Elva Ward, a leader in the church, who praised Obama. “In the last four years, everybody in my family who was unemployed became employed.”
This summer, Romney spoke to the NAACP convention and pitched himself as the candidate who could bring down the black unemployment rate, which has been falling but still hovers at 13.4 percent. But polls show Republicans have slowly lost ground since President George W. Bush pulled 11 percent of the black vote, a high mark for Republicans in modern times.
David A. Bositis, who studies the black electorate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said many black voters have been alienated by Republicans, with the push for more restrictive voting laws and some of the commentary about Obama.
“There’s almost a flashback to the civil rights era,” said Bositis, who expects black turnout this year to approach the rate four years ago.
Del. Rosalyn R. Dance, the area’s state legislator, agrees. “You may not see as many signs and people out there, but we are organized,” she said.
And the feeling in her home about this election is as intense as it was in 2008 — maybe more. As proof, she tells the story of her husband, yelling at the television during the first presidential debate: “Why is he nodding his head like he agrees with that man?”
As Obama continued to perform poorly, her husband began to feel lightheaded, and she had to take him to the hospital, where doctors said he had suffered a heart attack. Now, Dance checks his blood pressure before he tunes into election coverage. They cannot fathom an Obama loss.
“It’s personal,” Dance said. “Quite frankly, we already have buses lined up for inauguration.”
Scott Clement contributed to this report.