The nagging question that echoes inside my barber shop suddenly has a sense of urgency as the Democratic National Convention opens this week in Charlotte, North Carolina: Can President Barack Obama win re-election in November?
“What do you think?” a barber asks a small group of customers who sit against the wall, wait for haircuts, and pontificate about politics.
“It’ll be close,” said one customer who has frequented the Obama stronghold in Washington, D.C. for many years. “But I believe Obama will put it out.”
Like many African-Americans in D.C., and across the country, I’m cautiously optimistic, too.
Six months ago, there was more of a collective swagger in the black community, but now, 62 days before Election Day, in a race that is razor-thin close, black voters are worried – and for good reason.
In a recent report, the National Urban League calculated that if the African-American voter turnout rate in every state declines to 60 percent, down from 64.7 per cent in 2008, Obama would lose North Carolina and also have trouble in Ohio and Virginia.
"Essentially, African American voters in a number of key states hold the key to the outcome of the 2012 election," Marc Morial, the Urban League's president, said in a statement.
That’s an authoritative – and accurate – prediction.
Black voters – and all voters of color – have substantial political power in this year’s presidential election and it’s no coincidence that the Democratic National Convention is being held this week in North Carolina, a state Obama won by only 14,000 votes in 2008; a state where African-Americans make up 22 percent of the population.
Joy Cook, a 35 year-old African-American activist from North Carolina, is a volunteer for the Obama campaign.
“As someone from North Carolina, this is a great chance to show how our state stands behind the Democratic Party,” Cook said. “In 2010 Republicans swept North Carolina, taking control of both houses of the General Assembly for the first time since 1896, and I have personally felt the effects of the Republican Party being in charge of our state. We simply can’t afford that nationally and need to keep moving forward.”
David Bositis, a senior analyst with the Washington, DC-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, released a report this week, entitled: Blacks and the 2012 Democratic National Convention that underscored the significance of the black vote in November.
“While there is little question about the direction of [the] black vote this November, the size of black turnout will be important in determining the outcome of the election,” Bositis wrote. “Several of the states that President Obama won in 2008 that now appear to be likely to be more competitive have significant black populations, including the key states of Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. The black vote is also important in a few of the states that Senator Kerry won in 2004, such as, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”
Consider these relevant facts from Bositis:
– At the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, there are 346 more black delegates than in 2008 at the party’s convention in Denver.
– Of the black delegates this year, 608 are men (41.9 percent) and 844 are women (58.1 percent).
– There are 39 states with more black delegates than in 2008.
– Florida’s black delegate total increased by 49 (98 percent), California’s by 44 (57.9 percent), and North Carolina’s by 30 (61.2 percent).
Indeed, there is political power in numbers – and this kind of unprecedented voting power should not be squandered in November. African-Americans can significantly help re-elect Obama as the nation’s first black president – or they can watch him move out of the White House and back to Chicago.
There’s an old adage that goes something like this: When someone tells you who they are, listen.
Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for the White House, has told African-Americans exactly who he is: He’s a billionaire conservative who said he plans to abolish the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); he said he intends to cut funding for education which would likely include Pell Grant; he said he’ll slash funding for the Endowment of the Arts; he’s blatantly acknowledged that he’s “not concerned about the very poor;” and he’s also a proud member of the Mormon faith – a peculiar religion that teaches that black people were “cursed by God” as a way to explain black skin.
"Romney spent a lot of time talking about himself and he spent a lot of time talking about me,” Obama told USA Today about Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention. “He didn't spend a lot of time talking about the American people and how their lives will get better. I guess their premise is that the American people will be convinced, if we just get rid of Obama, then somehow that will be enough."
And while the nation’s unemployment rate is holding steady at 8.3 percent, Romney claims to have a magical plan to create millions of jobs.
“Are you better off today than you were in 2008”? Romney asks voters on the campaign trail.
But my question is this: Would the overall quality of life for most African-Americans dramatically improve if Romney is elected to the White House? Would black folks achieve economic and educational parity in a Romney administration?
Answer: Absolutely not.