For midterms, Democrats' dance card is delicate mix

By Nia-Malika Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 18, 2010

One thing is for sure this election year for many Democrats: They are not making it about President Obama. The man who was so popular two years ago is not in their stump speeches and certainly not in their ads. If he shows up in town, they happen to have a prior commitment. Some even boast of opposing him.

But there is one group for whom Democrats want to make it all about Obama: African Americans.

In the past week, party leaders launched a drive to stoke enthusiasm among black voters, dusting off the president's 2008 campaign logo, lingo and grass-roots strategy to get them to the polls in November. The party has backed a $2 million ad buy targeted at urban newspapers and radio stations with a simple message: "Stand With President Obama. Vote November 2."

And Obama has gotten involved, granting interviews to black radio personalities and trumpeting his administration's record on diversity, civil rights and higher education in front of large black audiences.

The president will speak at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation gala Saturday, where he will address the many steps his administration has taken to address the concerns of the African American community and the challenges that lie ahead.

The thinking behind the strategy is that African Americans are heavily invested in Obama and, if they can be convinced that the midterms are critical to his success, they will vote in larger than usual numbers. And if that happens, Democrats could prevail in some states, such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Nevada, where they need to win to hold on to their majorities.

Although the loyalty to Obama is clear - polls show he has a 91 percent approval rating among blacks - translating that into votes for any given Democratic candidate is far from guaranteed.

"If you think it's a natural transition, then you are naive, but there is an opening that makes it possible," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who had several meetings with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and White House aides about turnout. "People will come out if they are called out. The enthusiasm won't be the same, but if we get a respectable percentage, then the losses won't be as bad."

Counting on high turnout for midterms is always a gamble, and a recent Gallup poll shows that the gap between white and black enthusiasm is even higher this year than in past midterm elections - 42 percent of whites are thinking about the November elections, whereas only 25 percent of blacks are focused on them. The gap was 8 percent in 2006.

The radio ads airing on black stations, produced by Fuse, the advertising agency that created the popular Obama barbershop posters in 2008, are an attempt to inform voters and generate interest. The opening line: "There is an important election in November, and it is called the midterm."

A print ad captures the pride, showing Obama circa 2008, surrounded by a group of black voters sporting campaign pins and smiling broadly as the candidate leans in to talk to an older African American woman.

The $2 million that the DNC has committed for the African American ad buy is nearly eight times as much as the party spent in 2006. In the coming days and weeks, the ads will go up in key states such as Florida, California, Maryland and Illinois, among others with sizable black populations.

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