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It’s the same reason he spoke up prematurely after the Gates episode: He’s desperate to retain the support of black voters.

Blacks voted in unprecedented numbers in the 2008 election. And 95 percent of them pulled the lever for Mr. Obama. Blacks proved decisive for the president in several states.

But Mr. Obama has come under searing criticism from black leaders. The unemployment rate among blacks is nearly twice that of whites, a fact Rep. Maxine Waters has called “unconscionable.”

A Washington Post poll last September found that the share of blacks with a “strongly favorable” view of the president had fallen dramatically, from 83 percent five months previously to 58 percent.

I’m not suggesting that many of the 95 percent of black voters who supported Mr. Obama in 2008 will vote for the Republican nominee this year. But some of them simply may not vote.

Mr. Obama needs these voters. Blacks make up significant shares of the electorates of a number of swing states, including Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Last September, Mr. Obama told blacks to “stop complaining and fight.” His forays into the politics of racial grievance are his way of telling black voters he’s willing to fight for them, if only with words.

Mr. Obama’s remark about Trayvon’s shooting was a cheap gesture that’s part of a larger strategy he hopes will help him secure the support he’ll need come Election Day.

Given that his policy agenda fails to address the real obstacles to prosperity that many black Americans confront - failing public schools, fragile families and a gangster culture - it’s a strategy he will need.

Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.