CHARLOTTE – A successful convention was just the beginning for Democrats in North Carolina, or at least that’s what the Obama campaign is counting on.
To repeat President Obama’s narrow 2008 victory in the state, his supporters must extend the temporary rush of party enthusiasm from the convention into an organizing tool. And the black vote is critical here. In 2008, when Obama won this state by less than one percent over John McCain, more than 40 percent of the votes cast for the president were from African-Americans.
So at a table just outside Goodfellas Barber Shop here, voter registration captain Sarah Chambers and neighborhood team leader Yashica Smith sat, stood and cajoled the heavy foot traffic on a sunny Saturday.
“Are you registered?” “Are you going to vote?” they asked everyone they saw.
The barber shop, set between a beauty supply store and a Family Dollar, served up a constant supply of potential takers. (Being a hub of voter registration activity is “just a way of being a part of the community,” said Goodfellas owner Maurice McKinnon, 37.)
Chambers, Smith and 80-year-old Betty Funderburke, stationed further down, represent the African American women who, as in 2008, are out front in their commitment to Barack Obama.
Related: Will black women be as enthusiastic as 2008 for the president?
Chambers, a retired aesthetician, said she has been volunteering every weekend since May, and almost every day for the past two months. She sees a difference, she said, since the Democratic National Convention brought 35,000 delegates, media and visitors to town, one that makes her job of attracting potential voters easier.
“You don’t have to run after them anymore,” she said.
Chambers, 66, registers all comers of every party. But her outfit made her preference clear: a red Obama 2012 cap and a black T-shirt with silver studs spelling out “Obama President.” (She calls it “bling-bling for my president.”)
Though the threat of rain and a venue change shut her out of an in-person chance to hear the president’s acceptance address, convention week was a high for Chambers, who volunteered at hotels for the Tennessee and Florida delegations. She loved everything, from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s speech to Gabby Giffords’ pledge of allegiance. Michelle Obama was “nothing but a bit of sweet potato pie with a little whipped cream on top of it,” she said.
Chambers, who has had personal, financial and medical setbacks, has been helped, she said, by Obama administration policies. Her blood pressure medicine went from $153 a month to $6.50 a month due to the health care law, she said, and his mortgage policy helped her keep her home.
“Obama doesn’t work for just one specific group,” she said. “He works for all the people.”
In Charlotte for a reunion, Vanessa Hoke, 46, of Greensboro on Saturday picked up voter forms to make sure her 75 or so expected family members were registered.
“The last time President Obama needed us to vote, in 2010, we didn’t,” she said. “I don’t like the things being said about the president; he had to compromise.” Hoke said she intends to drive to her Mount Olive, N.C., home on Election Day to take family members and friends to the polls.
Pastor Bobby Bozson of the non-denominational Total Deliverance Christian Center stopped by on Saturday to learn more.
“Our vote is our voice in the government,” he said. “Even if we don’t get what we want, at least we were there.” He said many members of his predominantly black congregation of 120 struggle with medical bills or are young people making school plans. “They need to know what the candidates are offering.”
Stepping out of the barber shop, 25-year-old Ronnie Corbett had forgotten that his move from Myrtle Beach, S.C. meant he had to update his voter registration. He said that though he voted in 2008, he didn’t think much about why back then.
“Now, voting is important, to represent my ancestors and my family who fought for it,” he said. “I’m obligated to do it.”
Corbett, a graduate of Coastal Carolina University in sports management, said the president’s policies made college more affordable for him. Corbett said Obama is a strong person who doesn’t stray from what he believes in.
“People want to blame him, but Bush left a mess for him,” he said. While some of his classmates are apathetic about voting, thinking “it doesn’t matter because nothing’s going to change,” Corbett disagrees.
“It’s what you put into it; you’ve got to get out and try.”
Follow Mary Curtis on Twitter @mcurtisnc3