President Obama’s campaign will likely need the kind of strong black turnout he received in 2008 to win re-election, particularly if some of the white independent voters who backed him four years ago opt for the Republican candidate because of frustration over the president’s tenure.
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Here’s a look at five states the president won in 2008, where the black vote is again critical to his chances.
1. North Carolina
Obama won this state, becoming the first Democrat to do so since 1976. But he won by only about 14,000 votes out of more than four million cast.
He combined collecting 95 percent of the black vote with a strong showing among white voters. (Obama received 35 percent of the white vote, compared to the 27 percent John Kerry earned in 2004 as the Democratic nominee.)
With such a narrow margin of victory, Obama may actually need a higher black turnout than in 2008 to win the Tar Heel state and make up for a white vote that is likely to be less supportive of the president.
This is why Obama’s team sent campaign manager Jim Messina, as well as actress Gabrielle Union, to North Carolina Central University for an event last month, looking to rally both young and African-American voters.
Like North Carolina, this is a traditionally-Republican leaning state that Obama won through appealing to white and black voters in urban areas. Also, like neighboring N.C., Obama won in part because he performed more strongly among white voters than previous Democratic candidates.
But blacks were more than 20 percent of the electorate in 2008 in Virginia, a turnout that will need to be matched for Obama to win there again. The president won Virginia by about 6 percent in 2008, and both parties expect a closer race there in November.
In 2004, then-President George W. Bush collected a surprising 16 percent of the vote among blacks, helping him to win a very close race in this state and therefore earn a second term. Four years later, Obama won 97 percent of the black vote in Ohio, an improvement that helped him win the state.
But the state has seen a rightward shift since 2008, with a Republican winning both the U.S. Senate and the gubernatorial race two years ago.
The gains Obama made for the Democractic party in the Latino vote, compared to 2004, were much more important for winning Florida than any shift in the black vote. But Florida is a state where the spate of voting laws Republicans have pushed through around the country could have some impact.
In Florida, Republicans in the state legislature and Gov. Rick Scott enacted a provision that limits the days of early voting, including barring it on the Sunday before the election, when many black churches organize get-out-the vote efforts after services. Voting rights advocates have filed suit to have the provision overturned, and it may have little effect because black churches find other days for voting drives.
Like Ohio, Obama won in Florida in 2008 but Republicans did well statewide two years ago, suggesting a slight rightward shift by voters. A strong black turnout will be very important here as well.
If Obama doesn’t win in this state, he will have a very hard route to re-election. And it’s pretty reliably Democratic; the last Republican to win there was in 1988.
At the same time, it’s a large swing state that like Florida and Ohio, and just elected Republicans to the governor’s office and the U.S. Senate in 2010.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr