If that trend continues through November, Jarvis says, "we're looking at the lowest black voter participation rate in a presidential election since before the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. And the only reason for it would be disenchantment with the choices that black folk feel they have in the election."
Many blacks today feel the Democratic Party has pocketed their votes and given them little more than promises in exchange.
Some are tempted to go with Perot, if only to teach the Democrats a lesson.
"While I do not think Perot is the one," Waters said, "I think that we are definitely moving in that direction in this country, and it's a good thing. I've always maintained that the two-party system does not allow enough flexibility to be embraced totally by this society anymore."
From within the Clinton camp, staffers acknowledge the lukewarm response the candidate has generated among black voters. But they say that stems from the fact that voters--black and white--do not know enough about Clinton.
One black campaign staffer, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, says the campaign has been hampered in its efforts to raise Clinton's profile in black communities by the strategy that requires independence from any specific group. It also has been hurt by a spate of racially sensitive incidents that have cast a shadow over many blacks' initial perception of Clinton.
Those include Clinton's playing golf at an all-white country club, his attacks on the racially intolerant comments of a little-known rap singer and his ongoing feuding with Jackson.
Another incident, his refusal to share a stage with New Alliance Party presidential candidate Lenora Fulani at a Baltimore meeting of the National Newspaper Publishers Assn., resulted in Clinton's suffering a spate of critical editorials in black-owned community newspapers from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.
Fulani had drawn the ire of Clinton's campaign after she disrupted a Clinton rally held in Harlem during the week before the New York primary.
Clinton staffers says those incidents--exacerbated by the word-of-mouth grapevine that serves as an important information conduit among black Americans and by mainstream media reports of Clinton's "Southern" strategy--have interfered with their intended message to black voters.
"A tide of negative stories" and media disinterest in their "positive" outreach to black groups have made it difficult for Clinton to communicate with black voters, aides say, adding that he must find ways to make these voters more aware of his close identification with blacks, as reflected in his 12-year record as Arkansas governor.
A case in point occurred during the primary season.
Back in March, on the Sunday before the Illinois primary, Clinton spoke at four black churches in the Chicago area, where he was warmly received and endorsed by their respective preachers. But, much to black campaign staffers' dismay, news reports that day all focused on his appearance at a St. Patrick's Day parade in Beverly, a white-ethnic enclave of Chicago.
Now, as the Clinton-Gore campaign begins its drive toward the general election, staffers say they are refining their message to black voters, believing there is time yet to ensure sufficient turnout in November.