- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry has seen a 10 percent decline in his support among black voters in the past month that has forced him to devote more campaign resources to energize one of his party’s most loyal constituencies.

“Kerry continues to hold a big lead among African-Americans,” but his “advantage is narrower than it was last month,” Pew Research Center said in a national poll.

Pew said that in a head-to-head matchup with President Bush, Mr. Kerry’s support among black voters has fallen from 83 percent in August to 73 percent now, while Mr. Bush’s black support has doubled, from 6 percent to 12 percent.

Al Gore captured 90 percent of the black vote in 2000; Mr. Bush received 8 percent.

Kerry campaign supporters say his erosion of support among blacks was no cause for concern and that he will win overwhelming support from blacks on Election Day.

But the senator from Massachusetts last week added the Rev. Jesse Jackson to his campaign staff as a senior adviser, and his campaign sent out black congressional surrogates to major urban centers in battleground states in the Midwest, where his poll numbers have slipped in the past month.

“Kerry is underperforming. He is not performing at a rate that he needs in order to win. [Black voters are] clearly a target going into the final weeks of this campaign,” said Donna Brazile, who managed the Gore campaign in 2000.

“I would not worry about the so-called erosion, because in the end, [the black vote] is going to come back,” said Miss Brazile, who is widely considered her party’s best strategist for black turnout.

Mr. Kerry yesterday participated in a “religious summit meeting” with Mr. Jackson and 300 black religious leaders in Philadelphia. He also will address black voters on Thursday in a prime-time interview special on Black Entertainment Television.

Conservative black leaders said the decline in black support for Mr. Kerry just four weeks before the election sends a strong signal that enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate among blacks had deteriorated.

“John Kerry should be doing much better among African-Americans at this juncture, given that African-Americans are a critical segment of the Democratic Party’s base,” said Alvin Williams, president of Black America’s Political Action Committee (BAMPAC), a conservative PAC that gives money to conservative political candidates.

Polling this summer by BAMPAC and by other black organizations found that younger blacks are registering in larger numbers as independents instead of as Democrats, and that there has been a small but noticeable increase in Republican registration among blacks.

A poll conducted in 2000 by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank that studies issues of interest to blacks, found that 74 percent of blacks identified themselves as Democrats, a figure that fell to 63 percent in 2002. An additional 20 percent of black voters now call themselves independents, while 10 percent identify with the Republican Party.

Mr. Kerry has addressed all of the major black organizations this year, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League and the Congressional Black Caucus, receiving an enthusiastic reception. But during his 20-year career in the Senate, Mr. Kerry has not had a particularly close relationship with the black community and sometimes has been at odds with the community, especially on the issue of affirmative action.

In a speech at Yale in 1992, the senator from Massachusetts said affirmative-action programs had “opened doors” for minorities, but that it was also an “inherently limited and divisive program” that “kept Americans thinking in racial terms.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Kerry gave a group of black columnists the names of black leaders with whom he talks on a regular basis, including Princeton professor Cornel West, a leading black intellectual. But Mr. West since has called Mr. Kerry “milquetoast and mediocre” and “ambivalent” toward blacks. He told National Public Radio earlier this year that he did not “know anybody at all who’s close to John Kerry.”

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