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Some black voters in Ohio may shift

If even a few decide to oppose Obama, Republicans hope, it could be crucial.

October 30, 2012|Robin Abcarian
  • Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's former secretary of state, said there were a "collection of issues that have fed discontent" for many black voters in the state, and which could persuade them to support Mitt Romney.
Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's former secretary of state, said there… (Jay LaPrete, Associated…)

CLEVELAND — In 2008, Kenneth Price, a lifelong Democrat, was proud to support Barack Obama in his historic quest for the White House. Price, who is black, even volunteered for the campaign.

Price became disillusioned when the president abandoned his push for a public insurance option in his healthcare bill and extended the George W. Bush-era tax cuts.

When President Obama embraced same-sex marriage in May, "that was the last straw for me," said Price, 52, an ordained minister who owns a Cincinnati business and technology consulting firm. He decided to boycott the Nov. 6 election.

But watching the vice presidential candidates discuss abortion in their debate, Price had a change of heart. "We've had 54 million babies murdered in this country," said Price, referring to the number of legal abortions since the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. "The Lord spoke to me in a very clear way."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 31, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Black voters in Ohio: An article in the Oct. 30 Section A about black conservatives who no longer support President Obama because of his stand on gay marriage said that Granville, Ohio, is near Cincinnati. It is near Columbus.

This year, he will vote for Republican Mitt Romney.

The idea that black voters will desert Obama in meaningful numbers is unthinkable to most political observers. But in Ohio, whose voters will probably determine who lives in the White House for the next four years, a question flickers like a tiny flame of hope for some Republicans: Could a small number of black voters, sufficiently angry or disappointed with the president, be persuaded to vote against him? If so, could that make a difference in the outcome?

"Put it this way," said Leonard Hubert, 59, a black lifelong Republican from Granville, near Cincinnati, and a member of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. "They are less enthused and energized about Obama. Some are going to vote for Romney and some are going to not vote at all."

Just about everyone who follows politics in Ohio thinks there will be a drop in African American support for Obama, who earned 96% of the black vote here in 2008. The question is, how much?

"I think it would be in the narrowest sense a victory for the Romney campaign if he could hold President Obama's take of the African American vote in Ohio to 90%," said former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who is African American. That could mean tens of thousands of votes, a sliver of the total, but potentially crucial in a tight contest.

Still, many black conservatives said they were frustrated at what they thought was a missed opportunity. While the Democratic Party takes the black vote for granted, they say, the Republican Party assumes it is unobtainable.

"The marriage issue, the life issue, the fact that black unemployment is still double, even in Ohio," Blackwell said. "There's a collection of issues that have fed discontent and provides an opportunity for swinging 6%."

It's clear that things are different from four years ago.

On Wednesday night, the Cleveland gospel radio station Praise 1300 hosted a lively debate among black callers. One man compared Obama's embrace of same-sex marriage to the "coming of Sodom and Gomorrah," but said he planned to vote for him anyway.

A woman who said she was a graduate of Howard University said, "I don't see anything the president has done for me personally. It just sickens me to think everybody wants to vote for him. I am for Mitt Romney. I am for biblical principles."

Republicans often point out that in 2004, President George W. Bush received a surprisingly high 18% of the black vote in Ohio, but, as Blackwell noted, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the state ballot that year helped drive turnout.

Voters face no such proposal this year, but some conservatives are hoping to arouse some of the same anti-gay-marriage sentiments.

One obstacle they face: After the president spoke in support of gay marriage, the NAACP endorsed the position as well. Black support for same-sex marriage went up almost instantly across the country, including from some unexpected quarters.

"When rappers start coming out in favor of gay rights," said Eric McDaniel, a University of Texas government professor who studies race, religion and politics, "you know something has changed."

McDaniel challenged the assumption that African Americans would defect from Obama in any meaningful way over gay marriage or any other social issue.

"These issues don't mobilize African Americans," he said. "They might be opposed to gay marriage, but it's not something they are going to march over. ... At the end of the day, African Americans see a better way to work with the Obama administration than they do with the Romney administration."

Matt Borges, executive chairman of the Ohio GOP, could not name any specific outreach to black voters. Tara Wall, who handles African American outreach for the Romney campaign, suggested contacting the Ohio Black Republican Assn., but neither the president nor past president of the group responded to phone calls or emails.

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