- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

Strong support from black voters helped carry Bill Clinton to victory in 1992 and 1996, but analysts say the president's last-ditch effort to maximize black turnout isn't likely to carry key swing states for Al Gore on Tuesday.

"I never say it's not doable, but getting the black vote out is tough in my experience let alone in the record numbers needed to defeat Bush," says Bill Drew, a Democratic campaign adviser in Wisconsin.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has mounted a $9 million effort known as "Operation Big Vote" intended to boost black turnout. Mr. Clinton has recorded special appeals that will be delivered by computerized telephone calls to black households.

"Clinton, Gore and the NAACP are trying to get the black turnout up to 12 percent of the total votes cast, from the 10 percent it was in the 1996 presidential election," says Republican pollster Ed Goeas, who with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake conducts the bipartisan Battleground 2000 nightly tracking poll.

With Mr. Gore already polling strongly among black voters, "there is no more black vote for Clinton to maximize," Mr. Goeas says.

Registered black voters who favor Mr. Gore by an 8-to-1 margin, according to surveys make up about 11 percent of the total 131 million registered voters in the United States, according to Census Bureau data. That is just slightly less than the nearly 12 percent black share of the U.S. population.

But the black vote is weaker in several key battleground states, and Republican George W. Bush's overall lead is too large to be overcome by increased black turnout, Mr. Goeas says.

"If this were a dead-even race, it could perhaps matter in some states," he says. "But the bottom line is … the national polls have Bush ahead by five percentage points. So if [Democrats] boosted the black vote to the maximum, it still would not be enough to make a difference."

More than a third of American blacks about 12 million of a total 32 million live in seven states in the Deep South that polls show solidly lined up for Mr. Bush. Millions more blacks live in states like Maryland (1.4 million black residents) and New York (3.2 million) where Mr. Gore is comfortably leading in the polls.

Black voting strength is insignificant in two key battlegrounds of the Pacific Northwest blacks make up only 2.4 percent of the population in Oregon and just 3 percent in Washington state.

Black voters have a limited ability to make an impact on the election in key states like Wisconsin (5 percent) and Pennsylvania (9.2 percent). Black voters are more numerous in Florida (13.6 percent), and Michigan (13.9 percent).

After a concerted effort to get black voters to the polls in Michigan in 1998, black voters constituted 19 percent of the state's overall turnout, according to some estimates.

But that was in a midterm election with record-low overall turnout, when only 36 percent of eligible voters nationwide went to the polls. Overall turnout for this year's presidential election is expected to be closer to the 50 percent who voted in 1996.

A September poll by the nonpartisan Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies showed Mr. Gore with 74 percent support among black respondents, compared with 9 percent for Mr. Bush.

If that survey is accurate, black voters are more likely to vote Democratic now than in the past two elections. In 1996, 84 percent of blacks voted for Mr. Clinton compared with 12 percent for Republican Bob Dole a 7-to-1 margin while Mr. Clinton garnered 82 percent of the black vote in 1992.

This year, using recorded phone messages to black voters and personal appearances in black churches and on black radio and television stations, Mr. Clinton is claiming that a Bush presidency would damage economic opportunities for black Americans and jeopardize civil rights.

One analyst who says the Democratic effort may pay off in a Gore victory is David Bositis, chief analyst for the Joint Center.

Further maximizing the black vote "is an achievable, practical reality," he says. In many states, he says, black voter turnout has been lower than white voter turnout.

"If the black turnout can equal or even exceed the white turnout rate, that would have a big impact on the elections," Mr. Bositis says.

Polls and other indicators do not point toward such a result. The latest ABC News poll, for instance, found a higher intensity among Bush supporters than among Gore supporters, with 84 percent of Mr. Bush's backers saying they "strongly" support their candidate, compared with 80 percent for Mr. Gore.

In Illinois, the secretary of state has predicted a record turnout, with registration up 7 percent since 1996 and the largest increase in new registrations coming in Republican-leaning suburban areas. In Ohio once considered a tossup but now solidly favoring Mr. Bush, according to polls registration trends also favor Republicans.

Even the "gender gap" that traditionally favors Democratic candidates is nonexistent among white voters this year. The most recent Battleground poll shows white women favor Mr. Bush by 47 percent to 36 percent for Mr. Gore more than double Mr. Bush's overall edge of five percentage points in that poll.

Still, Mr. Bositis says efforts to boost black turnout an extra 20,000 black votes in Pennsylvania, which would mean a 5 percent increase in black turnout can make the difference for Mr. Gore.

"It's hard to do," Mr. Bositis concedes, but adds that the "Democrats and the NAACP are putting 10 times the money into black turnout this year than in 1996."

But the numbers just aren't there, contends one Pennsylvania Republican.

"In order to win the state, Gore would have to get 540,000 votes out of Philadelphia, and right now we estimate they will get about 480,000, and there are not 60,000 black voters out there for sure there's probably 20,000," says John McNichol, chairman of the Upper Darby Republican Campaign Committee. Mr. Clinton's appeals on Mr. Gore's behalf "might be able to get half of them, but that would not be enough," he says.

William Batoff, a longtime Democratic activist in Philadelphia, says Mr. Bush is winning Pennsylvania and the Clinton effort won't turn it around.

"At this point," he says, "I think people's minds are pretty well made up."

• Researchers Amy Baskerville, Clark Eberly and John Haydon contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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