Elections

Hillary Clinton fighting ‘enthusiasm gap’ among some black voters

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigned with President Barack Obama at the Charlotte Convention Center on July 5. Clinton will visit Charlotte’s historically black Johnson C. Smith University Thursday, not long after a new report underscored the lack of enthusiasm for her among many young African-American voters. Though Clinton is expected to easily out-poll Trump among African-Americans, she needs to approach the success President Barack Obama enjoyed among black voters in 2008 and 2012 to win battlegrounds such as North Carolina, Ohio and Florida.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigned with President Barack Obama at the Charlotte Convention Center on July 5. Clinton will visit Charlotte’s historically black Johnson C. Smith University Thursday, not long after a new report underscored the lack of enthusiasm for her among many young African-American voters. Though Clinton is expected to easily out-poll Trump among African-Americans, she needs to approach the success President Barack Obama enjoyed among black voters in 2008 and 2012 to win battlegrounds such as North Carolina, Ohio and Florida. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Marcus Caldwell is just the kind of voter Democrat Hillary Clinton needs to win North Carolina: young and African-American.

But although Caldwell says there’s no way he would vote for Republican Donald Trump, Clinton doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

“He’s a racist who is talking about building a wall,” said the 18-year-old high school senior. “I feel like she’s hiding something. So she’s the lesser of two evils.”

Clinton will visit Charlotte’s historically black Johnson C. Smith University Thursday, not long after a new report underscored the lack of enthusiasm for her among many young African-American voters.

The findings, based on focus groups commissioned by a handful of progressive organizations and reported in The New York Times, showed Clinton under-performing among young black voters in the battleground states of Ohio and Florida.

Though Clinton is expected to easily out-poll Trump among African-Americans, she needs to approach the success President Barack Obama enjoyed among black voters in 2008 and 2012 to win battlegrounds such as North Carolina, Ohio and Florida.

Black voters are key in North Carolina, where polls show Clinton and Trump locked in a tight race. African-Americans make up about 23 percent of registered voters in North Carolina and 33 percent in Mecklenburg County.

That includes nearly 503,000 black millennials across the state and 82,000 in Mecklenburg, according to Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer.

Rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs recently urged blacks to hold their support and “make them come for our vote.” Combs said he hopes Clinton starts speaking directly to the black community.

A CBS News Battleground Tracker poll released last week showed 31 percent of North Carolina’s black voters are supporting Clinton because they don’t like Trump. And the same percentage said they were “satisfied but not enthusiastic” about their choice, compared to 53 percent who were enthusiastic.

The CBS poll showed Clinton wining 91 percent of the black vote to Trump’s 4 percent. The GOP candidate has recently made strong appeals to African-Americans. “What do you have to lose by trying something new?” he asked during a rally last month in Charlotte.

‘Not as exciting’ as Obama

Interviews with more than a dozen African-American voters revealed some discomfort with Clinton and far less enthusiasm than Obama inspired in becoming the first black president.

Some shared a distrust over her use of a personal email account while secretary of state. Others cited her support for the 1994 crime bill signed by former President Bill Clinton that is partly blamed for spawning the mass of incarceration of African-Americans and Latinos.

But some said they’re holding their nose and supporting Clinton because she is not Trump.

“I’m excited to vote for Hillary so we don’t have Trump in the presidency,” said Ashley Brown, 31, a community educator. “However, it is not as exciting as voting for Barack Obama. He was more believable, and it was nice to have one of us in the White House.”

At the Who’s Next Barbershop near Steele Creek, barber Kevin Allen said he isn’t excited to vote for Clinton. He supported her primary challenger, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Allen, 32, said he’ll vote for her even though he’s bothered by her support for the 1994 crime bill. She has been criticized by Black Lives Matter and others for calling youthful offenders at the time “super-predators.” Clinton has since expressed regrets for her remarks.

Ray McKinnon is a Charlotte pastor who was a Sanders delegate at the Democratic convention. But he says he strongly supports Clinton.

“I don’t think that there is a huge gap in enthusiasm here in North Carolina, certainly not in Mecklenburg County,” he said. “I don’t think she should take any group of voters for granted. But I don’t think she is losing us here in North Carolina.”

Voting on policies

State NAACP President William Barber is organizing rallies Monday in Raleigh and 24 other state capitals to urge support for candidates who address issues important to the black community, including the minimum wage, voting, health care and disparities in criminal justice.

“When I talk to young people all over this country, I see people very enthused, particularly when you start talking about policy,” Barber said. “I think they will be engaged in a way we haven’t seen be in years. … The mantra I hear is we must vote now.”

Duke University political scientist Kerry Haynie expects North Carolina issues such as controversial laws involving voting rights and the LGBT community to help push African-Americans to the polls.

“Those will create some excitement on (Clinton’s) behalf,” he said. “There’s a sense among many African-Americans that their community is under attack again by Republicans over voting rights issues and civil rights. It’s a throwback to the 1960s in some respects.

Nathan Baskerville, a 35-year-old North Carolina state lawmaker from Vance County, said young black voters have already made up their minds about Trump but aren’t necessarily sold on Clinton.

“We are very well versed on who’s a bigot and who’s not,” he said. “We don’t need Hillary to point that out. What we do need is for Hillary to express her vision.”

At west Charlotte’s Stratford Richardson YMCA, fitness trainer Derrick Archie said he’s heard only one person openly say he was voting for Trump.

“He was black, “ Archie recalled. “So I was like, ‘Dude, have you been watching this election? Are you serious?’ 

Fred Clasen-Kelly: 704-358-5027

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