Black voters "not as rah-rah," but "really focused" for Obama

As the lines get longer, poll worker Kathy Barfield checks in voter Kimberly Knight at Ben Franklin Elementary, where an Obama mural was ordered to be covered after GOP complaints.
As the lines get longer, poll worker Kathy Barfield checks in voter Kimberly Knight at Ben Franklin Elementary, where an Obama mural was ordered to be covered after GOP complaints.
Posted: November 08, 2012

For African American voters in the Philadelphia region, the 2012 presidential election could hardly carry the emotional weight of four years ago.

But even if this time around Barack Obama was just an incumbent seeking another term - and not a newcomer seeking to shatter a historic barrier - many saw the election as deadly serious.

"People are not as rah-rah," Martin Vaughn, 55, said Tuesday afternoon outside a polling place on 52d Street in West Philadelphia. "What they are is really focused."

Later, Vaughn said he was delighted at Obama's win. "I'm extremely happy, I'm extremely elated," he said. "I think all the subterfuge and the misdirection and the divisive messages sent out by the Romney camp compelled people to get out and make sure they voted."

Another African American voter, Drew Parks, 33, who works for the Philadelphia Parking Authority, said late Tuesday that he been "a little anxious for a few hours" but wasn't surprised when Obama emerged the winner.

In his view, Parks said, Obama had proved to be an "exceptional" leader. But Parks agreed that the election this year had generated less electricity.

"There's going to be less enthusiasm than there was four years ago," he said. "You can't repeat that."

In 2008, the ascension of a black man to the nation's highest office was a epochal event, of such significance that some African American voters chose to bring photographs of dead forebears into the voting booths.

And early results Tuesday suggested that many black voters were determined to make sure that Obama was not a one-term president.

In Philadelphia, where African Americans make up the largest racial group, voters Tuesday matched the more-than-450,000-vote margin of victory the city gave Obama in 2008.

In almost half of the city's wards, Obama won at least 95 percent of the vote.

On Tuesday, Parks said he was reluctant to attribute criticism of Obama to prejudice and that Republican nominee Mitt Romney was an unattractive and "arrogant" candidate. Still, Parks said, he believed the questioning of the president's citizenship had been "totally off-base."

"I don't want to play a race card with him, but no other commander-in-chief has faced disrespect like that," Parks said.

Yusuf Muhammad, 64, had a similar criticism, but was blunter. "You know what it is - it's racism," Muhammad said.

Parks brushed aside criticism from some that Obama had failed to stress African American issues. Health-care reform would benefit people of all races, Parks said.

"You can't expect so much from this man," he said. "You can't expect him to attack the issues affecting the minority just because he's a minority."

Despite preelection polls that showed a dead heat between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Parks rightly predicted at noon Tuesday that Obama would emerge ahead. "I don't think it's going to be as close as people say it is," he said.

In 2008, exit polls found that 80 percent of all nonwhite voters had supported Obama, including 95 percent of black voters. Polling this year has found that support for Obama among black voters remained overwhelming.

But with white support for Obama falling from four years ago, according to polling, the role of African American voters - and their turnout - loomed larger this year.

Four years ago, Philadelphian Marilyn Bradley was thrilled when Obama become the first black president.

"It was something I didn't think I would see in my lifetime," said Bradley, 59, a retired probation officer who is African American.

She cast her vote for Obama again Tuesday. "I think he's done well given the many obstacles he's encountered, but he has not allowed them to deter him."

In North Philadelphia, Doris Williams, who voted at the historic Church of the Advocate at 18th and Diamond Streets, remained fervent in her support for Obama. She said she hoped her vote would join with others to send a global message.

"Obama is the best person for the job, hands-down," Williams said, "and I had to make sure that the rest of the world knew that, too."

In West Philadelphia on Tuesday, Mike Jones, 55, a maintenance worker who is African American, said it was hardly surprising that many black citizens were less jubilant this time around.

"There isn't as much hoopla," he said. "Even with me, I'm not as excited. However, I still think he's the best man for the job."

In 2008, Jones failed to register to vote, thinking - erroneously - that a robbery conviction from 23 years ago in Virginia barred him from voting. Pennsylvania is among 13 states that permits people to resume voting after they have served their sentence.

After squaring that away, Jones backed up his support for the president with his vote Tuesday - his first for Obama.

Jones said Obama's tenure over last four years had been marked by a knee-jerk opposition from Romney's party. Jones said the failure of Obama's health-care overhaul to get a single Republican vote in Congress was clear evidence that partisanship was out of control.

He also traced at least some of the criticism of Obama to racial prejudice. Jones grimaced as he recalled how a Romney surrogate, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, called Obama "lazy" after the president's much-criticized performance in the first debate - a derisive label once applied to African Americans. "This is one of the reasons that the country can't get going forward, because we are so divided along the lines of race," Jones aid.

Later Tuesday, Jones said he was pleased at Obama's win. "I think we should stick with him," he said. "Maybe this time around, hopefully, the Republicans will jump on board and support him a little bit. Perhaps on the things that are important to the country."

Contact Craig R. McCoy

at 215-854-4821 or

Inquirer staff writers John Duchneskie and Miriam Hill contributed to this article.

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