Local Politics

N.C. races could turn on black voter turnout

Posted October 24, 2008 2:25 p.m. EDT
Updated October 24, 2008 8:35 p.m. EDT

— Inspired in part by Democrat Barack Obama's run for the presidency, black voters are going to the polls in North Carolina at a break-neck pace.

African-Americans make up about 21 percent of North Carolina's registered voters, but they account for 29 percent of the 830,000 voters who have cast ballots during the record-setting pace of the first week of early voting. In recent elections, black voter turnout has averaged about 17 to 18 percent.

"Making history is such a great opportunity, and we are doing it right now," voter Flora Joyner said.

According to the State Board of Elections, about one in six registered black voters has cast an early ballot so far, compared with one in 10 white voters.

"Everyone needs to get out and vote. Every vote counts, not just the African-American (votes)," voter Jacqueline Watson said.

Democratic political consultant Brad Crone said the high proportion of African-American voters will erode by Election Day. But even if it levels to 21 to 23 percent, he said, that likely helps Democrats running for down-ballot races as well as Obama.

"That's a rising tide. So, it should lift the votes for Obama, for (U.S. Senate candidate Kay) Hagan and for (gubernatorial candidate Beverly) Perdue," Crone said. "Clearly, it's a game changer in a close election."

Obama's extensive campaign organization across North Carolina – he has 50 offices and hundreds of staffers in the state – has gotten much of the credit for getting out the vote.

"They've mobilized (and) put together a grassroots organization unlike anything we've probably seen in a long time," said Ballard Everett, a Republican consultant. "I think Republicans are worried about it, but I think they are looking at the fact that, if we get our folks to the polls and we do our job well, we'll be OK."

Crone said the election could turn on whether the black turnout can withstand the so-called "Bubba bump" – the Election Day surge of white, conservative voters.

"The question that everybody's is looking at (is) will the 'Bubba bump' exceed African-American performance," he said.