For Democrat Nye, African American vote is key, but uncertain

By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 7:54 PM


African Americans who say they are very interested in the congressional elections

Linwood Fisher only has a few minutes.

As the precinct captain for the Norfolk City Democratic Committee, he needs to spend these precious final days before the election knocking on doors. He was out there Saturday morning and will be back at it in the afternoon after a brief stop at the kitchen table of his neat clapboard house.

Politics is a hobby for Fisher, 56, a retired Navy lieutenant. He doesn't claim to be an authority on Glenn Nye or his Republican opponent, Scott Rigell, or even on the central question of whether Fisher's fellow African Americans will turn out in sufficient numbers to give Nye a second term.

Fisher only knows what he's seen in his working-class Ocean View neighborhood, and it's a mixed bag for Nye.

"The reception wasn't very good at first," Fisher said. "A lot of folks - when you knock on their door they don't know who their congressman is, and then they don't know whether he's a Democrat or a Republican, so you have to explain that stuff . . . a lot of people are not following issues as closely as you would think."

The 2nd District - which includes portions of Hampton and Norfolk, along with Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore - is 22 percent African American. High turnout in that community helped Nye and President Obama win in 2008 in a district that George W. Bush won by 16 points just four years earlier.

Nye has been trailing in the polls this year and has been running headlong away from his president and his party. He brags about the fact that he voted against some of Obama's top priorities, including the health-care reform bill.

That may play in some corners of the district, but it's not sitting too well among some of Fisher's neighbors - or with Fisher himself.

"African Americans - the people I talk to, some of them strong Democrats - at first, they were a little concerned with congressman Nye because of his voting record," Fisher said.

"Same with me. . . . It took me a while to decide whether I should support congressman Nye or not, because the health-care vote, I really didn't like. I thought that wasn't supporting the president. I thought that was his big initiative. Disagree on any other thing but the health-care initiative."

At a recent NAACP event, Fisher said, Nye "worked the room, but the reception wasn't really warm. In the African American community, congressman Nye has had to work very hard to make sure they understand that he is working in their best interests."

Democrats talk hopefully of their base voters "coming home" by Election Day, and Fisher said many African Americans in the district ultimately will make the same calculation he did.

Nye "doesn't have to vote with President Obama and [House] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi 100 percent of the time," Fisher said. "And I had to take into account this area - this is a very conservative area. So he's the choice. Regardless of how I first felt about him, he's the choice."

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