This week is a happy holiday away from the worries that beset Rudy Clay in his beloved home town of Gary, Ind. The old steel town is the quintessential Troubled City -- low on jobs, high on poverty, and low, off-the-radar low, on the national political priority list. But this week, as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention, Clay, a county commissioner who has been involved in electoral politics in Indiana for about 30 years, feels hopeful, even chipper, about his city's future. Gary, which is 85 percent black and 50 percent unemployed, is a city of have-nots. But with Clay surrounded by people saying that a President John Kerry could turn things around for struggling African Americans in urban centers, he is allowing himself to believe it.

"Kerry has actually motivated a lot of folk in African American communities by saying he's going to eliminate that gap between the haves and have-nots," said Clay after a caucus meeting of African American delegates Wednesday afternoon at the Sheraton Boston Hotel. "He talks about bringing jobs back from overseas as well."

The question has come up, most publicly by President Bush during his address to the National Urban League in Detroit last week, of whether the Democratic Party takes its most loyal voting bloc for granted. After all, African American voters overwhelmingly supported Bill Clinton twice and handed Al Gore 96 percent of their vote in 2000. This year does not look to be much different; a BET-CBS News poll of black voters conducted earlier this month found 85 percent of blacks disapprove of Bush's job as president and would vote for Kerry by an 8-to-1 margin. But the poll also suggested an electorate with no place else to go; just 27 percent said they are enthusiastic for Kerry, while 45 percent said a Kerry presidency would make little difference in their lives.

African American leaders have sounded warning bells. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus{scheck} -- one of Wednesday's night speakers -- has said that the Kerry campaign cannot count on animosity toward Bush to get out the African American vote on Election Day, a sentiment echoed in forums this week by Al Sharpton and Jesse L. Jackson.

But this convention, small a sample though it may be, suggests a different reality. African American delegates, who make up 20 percent of the total, sound genuinely happy about Kerry -- more so every day. Like the entire delegation here, which is wildly diverse but united in its commitment to defeat Bush, they are activists in their communities, and they are yellow dogs -- who would vote for a yellow dog over a Republican. But they are also Kerry fans, with the buttons and silly hats to prove it.

They applaud his choice of running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), who spent more time than any Democratic presidential primary candidate except for Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) addressing poverty and racism. They applaud his putting African Americans in key spots, especially inviting Barack Obama, the young U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois, to deliver the keynote address on Tuesday, with electrifying results. They like the issues that Kerry is stressing -- affordable health care, jobs, better education. In other words, they are sold.

"We supported him from the very beginning -- from the time he was at the bottom of the food chain," said David Rufus, a delegate from Syracuse, N.Y. His grass-roots group, the Alliance Network, which works on local issues such as jobs for youths, organized two busloads of volunteers who went to New Hampshire to get out the vote for Kerry.

Why Kerry?

"What he has championed as a senator are some of our issues," said Rufus, 45, who directs the youth programs for the Syracuse Housing Authority. "He supports youth programs and the creation of small businesses. He also talks about the subtle racism of putting things such as sewage treatment plants in the middle of African American communities -- that's what we've been fighting in Syracuse. I'm excited -- we're excited about him."

Mary Seymore, a delegate from Houston who works for the Texas attorney general, was also proud to say she was an early Kerry supporter. "I've been following Kerry ever since he became a senator," she said. "I've been on board since before that first primary." As a political activist, that has meant registering voters and being committed to getting out the vote for Kerry in November, she said.

Why Kerry?

"He supports the same issues that I do," she said. "Economic opportunities, health care, education."

Rufus said: "And when you talk about whether he's addressing the communities of color, talk about the people delivering his message: exquisite oratorical geniuses like Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton and Maya Angelou. These are people you believe in."

Jackson, an elder statesman in the party, roused the delegates Wednesday night by calling attention to Kerry's military service and describing Edwards as someone who "dares to stand in the gap between rich and poor, black and white, urban and rural, a vision of a new America."

Sharpton later told the crowd that he came to trust Kerry and Edwards while he was a fellow candidate on the campaign trail. "I stood with John Kerry and John Edwards on over 30 occasions during the primary season," he said. "I not only debated them, I watched them, I observed their deeds, I looked into their eyes. I am convinced that they are men who say what they mean and mean what they say."

Harvey Johnson Jr., the mayor of Jackson, Miss., was pleased with the lineup of African American leaders who have spoken at the convention thus far. Of Sharpton, he said, "I just think he's a great orator . . . and this is a wonderful opportunity to see him in perhaps a different light . . . as a spokesperson for the Democratic Party."

John McCloud, a retired schoolteacher from Gary, was also energized by those Kerry has deployed to deliver his message, but he likes the candidate as well. "He talks about the right issues," he said, "while Bush seems to be out of touch with those who really need some help and some support."

His comrade Clay chimed in. "The fact is, Kerry cannot win without the African American vote, and the African American community cannot get jobs, health care and the rest without Kerry in the White House."

"Kerry has actually motivated a lot of folk in African American communities" by promising to eliminate economic differences, said Rudy Clay of Gary, Ind.Steve Hightower and Patricia Weston Rivera of Newark cheer on Sen. John Edwards. In a poll this month by BET-CBS News, 85 percent of blacks disapproved of President Bush's performance and would vote for Sen. John F. Kerry by an 8-to-1 margin.