The Black Vote Is Crucial

Both candidates are reaching for the swing votes that lie within the black community

Months ago, if he were a betting man, David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., would have wagered on a Gore win in November. Now, he says, “It’s 50-50. With Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush running head-to-head in the polls, the race is pretty much a toss up.” Where the ball stops is anyone’s guess, TV’s talking heads say. But, is it, really? The fact is black voter turnout could have a major impact on the presidential race.

According to Bositis, in the 2000 presidential election, most of the “swing” states have significant black populations.

His fear, however, is that voter turnout, in general, will be “somewhere between pathetic and awful.” And during the last presidential election, it reached a 72-year low.

“It’s up to Vice President Gore and Gov. Bush to prove to black voters that there is a difference in their platforms, to show black voters that they have a choice. If they are not successful in doing that, it is likely that black voters will stay home,” laments political scientist Dr. Ron Walters.

Both political parties have been diligently working to stop that type of apathy. In 1998, Donna Brazile, who is now Gore’s campaign manager, worked for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Their goal was to make 50 hits per person among targeted black voters,” says Bositis. That means radio spots on black stations, ads in black newspapers, [recorded] phone calls from Bill and Hillary Clinton, and literature drops. Adds Bositis, “I wouldn’t be surprised if this year it isn’t 100 hits per person.”

Without black voter participation, Gore will have a difficult time winning. He risked alienating African Americans when he picked Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate. In the past, Lieberman has expressed reservations about affirmative action and interest in school voucher programs, two issues dear to the African American heart.

According to Congressional Black Caucus Chairman James Clyburn, D-S.C., all of the attention focused on Lieberman’s now-former views is much ado about nothing. During the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Lieberman personally reassured the CBC that he would rescind his support of school vouchers if there was a negative impact on the public school system or students after two years. That’s all it took. Many CBC members started planning joint appearances with Lieberman in their districts soon after the convention ended in August.

Atypical of Republican behavior, Bush has put more effort into attracting minority voters than his party has in the past. He’s visited inner-city schools and churches, turned to African Americans like security specialist Condoleezza Rice for their expertise, and spoke at this year’s NAACP convention.

The Republicans made a strong effort toward the black vote with the Brian McKnight opening performance at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, and the constant camera shots of every African American delegate in attendance.

But it didn’t take long before it was revealed that there were only six blacks on the Republican’s convention committees

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