President Barack Obama challenged black voters to make their voices heard if they want to see a continuation of the racial progress in society that allowed him to become the nation’s first black president.
In remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual conference, Obama ticked off a list of achievements that he said showed the “enormous progress” in the U.S., including steady job growth, a decline in the number of people without health insurance and a falling crime rate.
“But our work’s not done,” he said. Sketching a view of society where one day children, black and white, won’t be scared by discrimination and where everyone has at least a chance for an education and a job, Obama said prayers and good intentions aren’t enough. “We have to vote for it.”
Obama’s address underscored a reality Democrats around the country are facing with less than six weeks before the mid-term congressional elections: voter enthusiasm is a problem. Voter turnout from groups crucial to the party’s recent victories, young people, minorities and women, historically declines in midterm elections.
Seven of the 21 Senate seats being defended by Democrats are in states that Obama lost in the last presidential election. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to gain control of the chamber and polls show they are in reach of that goal.
Smiling, Obama told the audience that people often wish him well, note that he’s getting gray hair and “looking tired” and say they’re praying for him.
“But we need more than prayer. We need to vote,” Obama said. “It will not relieve me of my gray hair, but it will help me pass some bills.”
National Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have focused on Republican efforts to change voting laws as a way to increase urgency among the party’s voters for the midterms.
The changes to state voting laws and rules around the country have drawn the ire of Democrats who see the measures as a deliberate effort to suppress votes, particularly among minority voters.
Republicans counter that laws requiring identification at the polls or cutting down on early voting hours are designed to root out fraud and streamline state and county operations.
Obama spoke two days after announcing the resignation of Eric Holder, the first black U.S. attorney general, who focused on voting rights and reducing mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses.
He paid tribute to Holder as someone who has made it his life’s work to “making sure that equal justice under the law actually means something." He called him “a great friend of mine, he has been a faithful servant of the American people.”
Holder spoke to the group yesterday, saying attending a Congressional Black Caucus dinner with an aunt when he was younger was a “foundational experience” for him.
As the nation’s top Democrat, Obama has a schedule of political fundraising trips between now and the Nov. 4 elections aimed at helping Democrats retain control of the Senate. Earlier this week, he headlined fundraisers in New York and Washington and next week he’s scheduled to travel to Chicago to raise money.
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