WASHINGTON (AP) — If President Barack Obama is to avoid a term-ending "shellacking" next year, he’ll need to do better than he has been with black voters, an important Democratic constituency.
With that in mind, Obama was speaking Saturday at the annual awards banquet of the Congressional Black Caucus. The group’s leaders may be fiercely protective of the nation’s first African-American president but they seem increasingly disgruntled with his performance or at least increasingly public about it.
The big reason is unemployment. Obama acknowledges the national rate of 9.1 percent is a "crisis." But for blacks, the figure is 16.7 percent.
"If Bill Clinton had been in the White House and had failed to address this problem, we probably would be marching on the White House," the caucus chairman, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, recently told McClatchy Newspapers.
Ahead of the speech, White House spokesman Kevin Lewis said Obama "shares the frustration of African-Americans and all Americans about the pace of the economy" and will use his remarks to note the jobs plan he sent Congress two weeks ago "includes targeted initiatives and programs that protect, support and provide economic stability for the most vulnerable Americans."
Like many Democratic lawmakers, caucus members were dismayed by Obama’s concessions to the GOP during the summer’s talks on raising the government’s borrowing limit.
Cleaver famously called the compromise deal a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich."
But Cleaver said his members also are keeping their gripes in check because "nobody wants to do anything that would empower the people who hate the president."
Still, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., caused a stir last month by complaining that Obama’s Midwest bus tour had bypassed black districts. She told a largely black audience in Detroit that the caucus is "supportive of the president, but we’re getting tired."
Last year, Obama addressed the same dinner and implored blacks to get out the vote in the midterm elections because Republicans were preparing to "turn back the clock."
What followed was a Democratic rout that Obama acknowledged as a "shellacking."
Where blacks had turned out in droves to help elect him in 2008, there was a sharp drop-off two years later.
Some 65 percent of eligible blacks voted in 2008, compared with a 2010 level that polls estimate at between 37 percent and 40 percent. Final census figures for 2010 are not yet available, and it’s worth noting off-year elections typically draw far fewer voters.
This year’s caucus speech came as Obama began cranking up grass-roots efforts across the Democratic spectrum.
It also fell on the eve of a trip to the West Coast that will combine salesmanship for the jobs plan he sent to Congress this month and re-election fundraising.
Obama was leaving Sunday morning for Seattle, where two money receptions were planned, with two more to follow in the San Francisco area.
On Monday, Obama is holding a town meeting at the California headquarters of LinkedIn, the business networking website, before going on to fundraisers in San Diego and Los Angeles and a visit Tuesday to a Denver-area high school to highlight the school renovation component of the jobs package.