About 12 percent of the Florida electorate is black, but black turnout is inconsistent. In 2000, when Al Gore barely lost the state and the White House, black voters accounted for 15 percent of the overall vote. In 2004, when John Kerry lost Florida by 5 percentage points, that number was 12 percent.I remember it well -- I was working for one of those groups... and now the bottom line:
Despite a massive mobilization effort by political groups working independently of the Kerry-Edwards campaign but in hopes of helping the ticket, black turnout in Florida was just 61 percent. Overall turnout was 74 percent.
Florida is just starting to get to know Obama, as he and Hillary Rodham Clinton avoided campaigning in the state's unsanctioned Jan. 29 primary. But in the 16 contested Democratic primaries with significant black populations, the black turnout jumped 115 percent. Overwhelmingly, those votes went to Obama.Meanwhile, Obama could also be helped, inadvertently, by eager McCain suitor Charlie Crist, who made good on a campaign promise to ease the transition of former felons to full membership in civic society, including restoring the right to vote (or at least making the process a little simpler.) That change alone could in theory put nearly 950,000 ex-felons (and people mistaken for felons by Kathy Harris' Dickensian system,) back on the rolls, or 9 percent of the state's voting age population (Florida has more disenfranchised felons than any other state, and surprise, surprise, a disproportionate number of them are African-American, Latino or lower income white. And though these are voters who haven't been able to participate, most researchers believe that the disenfranchised would overwhelmingly vote Democrat.) If the Obama campaign and other groups can get to these voters -- even half of them would erase George W. Bush's 380,000 vote margin over John Kerry in 2004.
"I have no doubt he will significantly increase black turnout across the country. It was 60 percent in 2004, and I would expect it to be 72 percent this year," said David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic studies, one of the country's foremost experts on black voting trends.
"In most cases, that's not necessarily enough for him to carry a state, but Florida is one of those places that a big black turnout certainly has the potential to put him over the top," said Bositis, putting Virginia and North Carolina in the same category.
That alone can't deliver Florida, but if Obama continues to run strong or competitively among Hispanic and independent voters, black turnout could give him a pivotal edge.
Sidebar: I can attest anecdotally that at nearly every event we did in the black community at my prior radio station, we had people coming up to us or calling in to ask how they could get their rights restored. From the jobs standpoint, as well as from a voter participation standpoint, this is a very big deal...