Friday, August 18, 2000

Democrats rely on black voters

2000 goal: More turnout

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOS ANGELES — If this year's presidential election is like most in the last four decades, only one of every 10 African-Americans who go to the polls will vote for the Republican candidate.

        But, for this year's Democratic nominee, Al Gore, nine of 10 may not be enough.

        The key will be turnout.

        “Our challenge this year is in increasing the African-American vote,” said state Sen. C.J. Prentiss of Cleveland, one of the leaders of the Ohio Black Legislative Caucus. “If African-Americans are fired up and motivated and go out to vote in droves, we win.”

        Ms. Prentiss spoke Thursday to Ohio delegates. The theme was turning out black voters this fall.

        African-Americans have been the most loyal constituency group of the Democrat ic coalition that has come together to elect every Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt.

        But turnout among African-American voters usually lags the nation as a whole, and a depressed turnout in the black community has doomed more than one Democratic candidate in local, state and national races.

        Two years ago, Democrat Lee Fisher lost the Ohio governor's race to Republican Bob Taft by 179,765 votes — or about 12 votes per precinct statewide.

        “If we had just had a higher turnout among African-American voters that year, Lee Fisher would be sitting in the governor's office right now,” Ms. Prentiss said.

        Rep. Jack Ford of Columbus, minority leader of the Ohio House, said the state Democratic leadership will not let that happen this year.

        “We will not have our candidates lose by 150 votes or some ridiculous amount because we did not do the work of getting people out,' Mr. Ford said.

        The Ohio Democratic Party plans a major get-out-the-vote effort this fall, not only for the Gore campaign but for Ohio Supreme Court candidates Alice Robie Resnick and Tim Black.

        The Ohio Republican Party will also be targeting blacks and other minority voters. The party's “Campaign America” minority outreach will soon set up an inner-city office In Columbus.

        Cincinnati City Councilwoman Alicia Reece, an Ohio Democratic delegate, is co-chairman of a nonpartisan voter registration program in Cincinnati this year that targets white and black voters.

        But getting African-Americans — particularly young African-Americans — registered to vote is not enough, Ms. Reece said.

        “You have to follow up with them,” Ms. Reece said. “You have to ... make sure people understand why it is important they vote, not just register to vote.”


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