Obama Tries To Bridge A 'Black Enthusiasm Gap' In Florida

Nov 3, 2016
Originally published on November 3, 2016 12:55 pm

President Obama is headlining a pair of campaign rallies for Hillary Clinton in Florida on Thursday. It's part of a concerted effort to mobilize the African-American vote, amid signs that early black turnout lags the pace of four years ago.

In some states, like North Carolina where Obama campaigned Wednesday, Republicans deliberately tried to limit access to early voting — a move that was only partially reversed by the federal courts.

But even in Florida, where opportunities for early voting have expanded in the last four years, black turnout is lagging in a way that could hurt Democrats.

"If the Clinton campaign is waiting till Tuesday, November 8th, to get out the black vote, they have some heavy lifting to do," said University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith who tracks early voting as Election Smith.

Obama acknowledged a black "enthusiasm gap" compared to 2012.

"I know there are a lot of people in barbershops and beauty salons and in the neighborhoods who are saying to themselves, 'Well, we love Barack, and we especially love Michelle,'" Obama said this week in an interview with Tom Joyner's syndicated radio program. "And so it was exciting, and now we're not excited."

Obama is trying to gin up some excitement, telling Joyner's largely African-American audience he doesn't want to spend his last months in office contemplating the dismantling of everything he's done.

"All the work we've done to make sure people get overtime," he said. "All the work we've done to make sure women get paid the same as men for doing the same job. All the work we've done to make sure 20 million people have health insurance."

African-Americans have seen some of the biggest gains in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, gains that could be quickly wiped away if Donald Trump wins the White House.

Democrats can point to some encouraging signs. African-American turnout in southeastern Florida has picked up in recent days. And turnout among Hispanic voters in Florida is running ahead of 2012's pace.

"That is probably the silver lining right now for the Clinton campaign is the high rate of Hispanic turnout," said political scientist Smith. "Especially in the central part of the state — mostly Puerto Ricans. Polling numbers suggest Hispanics, especially Puerto Ricans, are strongly against Donald Trump."

But Democratic margins among Hispanic voters are not as lopsided as with African-Americans so it takes a big jump in Hispanic turnout to offset any decline in black voting.

Obama cautions any voter who stays home out of apathy is doing the work of voter suppression groups for them. And in hard-fought states like Florida and North Carolina, even a small change in turnout can make a big difference.

"Each of you can swing an entire precinct for Hillary if you vote," Obama told supporters in North Carolina Thursday. "Or you can swing it for her if you don't vote. Your vote matters."

Obama will be back in North Carolina Friday in hopes of encouraging turnout before Saturday, the last day of early voting in that state.

He returns to Florida for an early voting rally Sunday, when many African-American churches will be organizing Souls-to-the-Polls drives.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some weeks ago, President Obama said he'd consider it a personal insult if black voters did not turn out this fall. He was pushing African-Americans to defend his legacy and elect Hillary Clinton. Today the president campaigns in Florida, where African-American early voting is behind the pace of the last election. NPR's Scott Horsley reports from Miami.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama suggests Donald Trump's call for his supporters to monitor polling places in certain areas is a thinly veiled attempt to discourage African-Americans from voting. He adds some of the groups supporting Trump don't bother to veil their intentions at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN RALLY)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There are groups that are not even making secret plans. They're just out in public saying we're going to try and suppress the African-American vote on Election Day.

HORSLEY: Election Day is still five days away. But already, there are signs that early voting by African-Americans is down from 2012. In some states like North Carolina, where Obama campaigned yesterday, Republicans deliberately tried to limit access to early voting, a move that was only partially reversed by the federal courts.

But even in Florida, where opportunities for early voting have expanded over the last four years, black turnout is lagging in a way that could hurt Democrats. Political scientist Daniel Smith of the University of Florida says, in 2012, nearly two out of three African-American voters in Florida cast their ballots before Election Day.

DANIEL SMITH: If the Clinton campaign is trying to wait until Tuesday, November 8, to get out the black vote, they have some heavy lifting to do.

HORSLEY: Obama acknowledged a black enthusiasm gap from four years ago in an interview this week on Tom Joyner's syndicated radio program.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE TOM JOYNER MORNING SHOW")

OBAMA: Now I know that there are a lot of people in barbershops, in the beauty salons, you know, in the neighborhoods who are saying to themselves - well, you know, we love Barack. We love - we especially love Michelle, and so, you know, it was exciting. And now we're not excited.

HORSLEY: Obama's trying to gin up some excitement, telling Joyner's largely African-American audience he doesn't want to spend his last months in office contemplating the dismantling of everything he's done.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "TOM JOYNER MORNING SHOW")

OBAMA: All the work we've done to make sure people get overtime, all the work we've done to make sure women get paid the same as men for doing the same job, all the work we've done to make sure 20 million people have health insurance.

HORSLEY: African-Americans have seen some of the biggest gains in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, gains that could be quickly wiped away if Trump wins the White House. Democrats can point to some encouraging signs. Daniel Smith notes African-American turnout in southeastern Florida has picked up in recent days, and turnout among Hispanic voters in the state is running ahead of the pace in 2012.

SMITH: That is probably the silver lining right now for the Clinton campaign, is the high rate of Hispanic turnout, especially in the central part of the state, mostly Puerto Rican. Polling numbers suggest that Hispanics, especially Puerto Ricans, are strongly against Donald Trump.

HORSLEY: But Democratic margins among Hispanic voters are not as lopsided as African-Americans. So it takes a big jump in Hispanic turnout to offset any decline in black voting. Obama cautions, any voter who stays home out of apathy is doing the work of voter suppression groups for them. And in hard fought states like Florida and North Carolina, even a small change in turnout can make a big difference.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN RALLY)

OBAMA: Each of you could swing an entire precinct for Hillary if you vote. Or you could swing it for her if you don't vote. Your vote matters. Young people, especially, your vote matters.

HORSLEY: Obama will be making that case up and down Florida's east coast today. And he'll be back in the central part of the state on Sunday.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.