In the latest push to energize and engage black voters, President Barack Obama's reelection campaign this morning launched African Americans for Obama, with a video introduction from the president himself.
"This month we are announcing the 2012 launch of African Americans for Obama," the president announced in the video provided to The Huffington Post by the campaign. "I don't think there's a better time than African-American history month to consider the tremendous progress that we've made through the sacrifices of so many, or a better time to commit to meeting the very real challenges we face right now."
In the video, the president makes a somewhat rare, direct overture to black voters, urging them to "keep making history."
"Every day I think of the generations of African-American men and women who overcame slavery and oppression, risked their own safety to cast a ballot, even gave up their lives to help build a country that lived up to its founding principles," President Obama said in the video, which runs about a minute and 44 seconds. "Their extraordinary hope, their unwavering determination changed this country. Their efforts made it possible for somebody like me to be here today."
African Americans for Obama will be a part of Operation Vote, the campaign's outreach arm to select voting blocs, including African Americans, Hispanics, Jews, LGBTQs, youth and older voters.
African Americans for Obama includes a number of programs geared toward the black community, including one to engage barbershop and beauty salon owners as "opinion leaders" and volunteer recruiters in the community. Other initiatives will include programs to empower and engage black business leaders, civic organizations and students at historically black colleges and universities.
"Our goal is to provide a platform for the community to get involved – we plan on stressing the importance of voter education and registration" a campaign spokesperson said this morning.
Over the past few months, the campaign and the White House have made a stronger push to reconnect with the black community, after a long summer and fall during which critics lambasted the president for not doing enough to mend the wealth gap between blacks and whites or end the double-digit unemployment rates for African Americans.
In November of last year, the White House held its first-ever African-American Policy in Action Leadership Conference, a summit of black community leaders.
Operation Vote launched a few months earlier. And just last week the campaign announced the hire of Stefanie Brown, a longtime NAACP operative to lead its African-American outreach efforts.
"He needs the support of the African-American community in order to continue to bring positive change to our community," Brown told The Huffington Post. "African Americans for Obama will provide a space to learn more about these plans, as well as for the community to discuss, support and volunteer for the 2012 presidential campaign."
Brown said the president "has been fighting for policies that give everyone a fair shot" and that his economic policies have put more money "back into the pockets of 18.5 million African-American workers."
Meanwhile, around the country young professional blacks are rallying to raise money and organize around Obama's bid for reelection. They've thrown fancy parties for the up-and-coming set, gotten creative about fundraising and have thrown State of the Union viewing parties attended by hundreds of potential supporters.
In 2008, 55 percent of eligible blacks ages 18 to 24 voted on Election Day, and 65 percent of eligible blacks of all ages voted, according to the U.S. Census. Overall, about 96 percent of them voted for Obama. The latest Gallup Poll numbers show that Obama is enjoying an 89 percent approval rating among blacks. But while there seems to be no real weakening of his base of black support, the excitement over the president's historic run in 2008 has waned. Blacks still face an abysmally high unemployment rate and some have hinted at disappointment over some unmet expectations, according to political analysts and some black voters.
"I think a big part of it is the super-human expectations that were put on Obama," said Diane Lucas, a lawyer in New York City who co-founded elevensixtwelve.com (11-6-12, the date of the presidential election), a website with a blog about presidential politics that also sells Obama-inspired merchandise, with all profits going to the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party.
"When he started and people were all like, 'He's going to be amazing, he's going to be great, he's even going to save the world and save Africa!' Of course he can't do all of that and definitely not in the first year or three years," Lucas said. "And I think peope got disappointed."
Analysts say a major showing by African Americans will be critical for the president again this time around, particularly in swing states where Obama won by a slim margin. According to the Obama campaign, various outreach programs will be unveiled over the coming months in key states such as North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada. According to a recent poll of likely voters in 11 battleground states conducted by Brilliant Corners Research and published by POLITICO, minority support in those states remains strong, despite slight slippage with Latino voters.
The Obama campaign is redoubling its efforts to get its message out to these groups.
"We can't assume that anyone knows of everything we've been doing. There might be a lot of people feeling apathetic or feeling not engaged just because they don't know what has happened," said Michael Blake, deputy director of Operation Vote, on a recent evening during a State of the Union viewing party in New York City. "Part of that is we need to do more to communicate that out, walk people through it and say, 'Here are the accomplishments and here's how it impacts your life in a real practical way.'
"We're asking for you to stop and hear us on what President Obama has done in the last three years, and that should get you excited again," he said. "But then you have the responsibility to defend that change this election."