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If black turnout falls, Obama could struggle

WASHINGTON -- One of the country's oldest civil rights groups says President Barack Obama may have a tougher time winning at least three battleground states in November should black voter turnout fall 5 percentage points or more below the record levels that helped to put him in the White House.

Black turnout of 64.7 percent was a significant factor in 2008, and African-Americans are considered solidly behind Obama. But having achieved the milestone of electing the nation's first black president, those black voters who support him may be less motivated to return in droves again, the National Urban League said in a report yesterday.

Assuming no change in 2008 voting patterns, Urban League researchers said, black turnout at 60 percent or below could cost Obama North Carolina and make Ohio and Virginia difficult. Besides diminished voter enthusiasm, the still-ailing economy, persistent high unemployment, new state voting laws and limited growth in the African-American population could help discourage turnout.

"We achieved a high-water mark in America in 2008. For the first time, African-Americans were at the table with white America" because the black turnout was just 1.4 points below white voters, said Chanelle Hardy, senior vice president and executive director of the National Urban League Policy Institute. "Because we achieved so much in 2008, we have to push even harder to meet those numbers."

"President Obama does not take a single vote or support from any community for granted and he is working to secure the same levels of support based on policies that give everyone a fair shot and the opportunity to succeed," said Clo Ewing of the Obama campaign. She cited the payroll tax, job training, education and health care reform as areas Obama has worked hard to improve and noted that those efforts benefit African-Americans.

The campaign for likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney said he would compete for black votes.

Tara Wall, a Romney spokeswoman, said he is committed to competing in the black community, despite the odds. She said he acknowledges he won't get a majority of black voters but recognizes Obama can't count on the margins he once enjoyed. "Every percentage point that we chip away from President Obama counts," Wall said.

Still, several other changes could offset a decline by black voters, even to 2004 levels. Increased turnout of Hispanic voters, who went heavily for Obama in 2008, or drops in turnout of conservative Republicans could offset a lower black turnout.

The Urban League released its report ahead of the president's July 25 speech scheduled for opening day at its national convention in New Orleans.

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