- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While enthusiasm for President Obama among black voters has waned a bit since his first run at the White House in 2008, the Democratic Party will do what is necessary to ensure black voters turn out to secure his re-election, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus said in an interview Wednesday.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Missouri Democrat, said while the president will get at least 95 percent of the black vote, the party can’t bank on Obama-induced excitement alone to motivate the black electorate — much as it did four years ago. He vowed his party will engage in a thorough and extensive grass-roots get-out-the-vote campaign in the black community to ensure turnout is high.

“This is 2012. Things are dramatically different than they were” in 2008, Mr. Cleaver said. “Somehow the impression has been given that everything should be the way that it was four years ago, and that’s not psychologically possible.”

Mr. Cleaver said his own experience as Kansas City’s first black mayor had taught him that re-election campaigns aren’t “as sexy as the first.”

“Nobody is going to have a second marriage ceremony as enthusiastic as the first,” he said.

The chairman said some disappointment for Mr. Obama among black voters is based on unrealistic expectations of what he could do for them and the country.

“We have had that unreal expectation of the first black president by some black people,” he said. “Yes, there will be some drop-off because of that, but it won’t be substantial. We’re still going to get a pretty good turnout, but it’s not going to match the first turnout.”

But Democrats have a history of engaging in strong get-out-the-vote ground games, so Mr. Cleaver said he isn’t worried his party is up to the task.

“We’ve got to go out and knock on doors and pick people up and run radio spots in urban listening areas and get people out to vote,” he said. “It’s not foreign to us. This is what we’ve been doing. We just didn’t have to do it four years ago.”

Mr. Cleaver jokily called this tactic “drug” involvement: “And by that I mean, when this is over we’ve got to be able to say, ‘I drug 25 people to the polls. I drug 100 people to the polls.’ And that’s just the way it has to be.”

The Missouri Democrat said his party can’t afford to take black voters for granted, saying there’s “just this anticipation that we’re going to be there with the Democratic Party, and so far it has worked.”

But he added he isn’t worried the Republican Party will woo away many black voters, and criticized the GOP for largely ignoring the black electorate.

“I’ve been black all my life and I’ll be black for the remainder, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that the Republicans cannot connect with African-Americans,” he said. “I don’t like the fact that one party is seen as hostile to African-Americans.”

As an example, he pointed to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s address to the NAACP’s convention in July, when he was booed for saying he would repeal Mr. Obama’s signature health care reform law.

“No candidate goes to a convention to get a negative reaction. People go to a convention to woo, not to get the people to boo,” he said. “This just tells you where Romney is.”

Mr. Cleaver said Mr. Romney should take a page from the campaign playbook of 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who refused to give credence to conservative conspiracies that Mr. Obama was born outside the United States.

“You’re not going to attract African-Americans by getting [former Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice, or three or four black people at a convention to speak, or making sure that when Mr. Romney speaks that he places an African-American in camera view,” he said. “That’s not it. It’s the policies” that matter.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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