Democrats fear low turnout among African Americans could hurt Gore in Louisiana
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- The tempo is slow in this Louisiana political season. It's slow even in the oyster bars where politics and food have mixed for a century, and the low level of energy is particularly evident among black voters.
"I kind of sense that things are getting ready to happen, but they haven't happened yet," said Louisiana state Rep. Edwin Murray, a Democrat.
Terry Jones, publisher of the New Orleans Data News Weekly and vice president of a national newspaper association for the black press, says that the Gore-Lieberman campaign is not aggressive enough in reaching out to African-American voters
At Antoine's, one of New Orleans' oldest restaurants, African-American political leaders -- all Democrats -- express fear that apathy could even undo Vice President Al Gore's presidential candidacy here.
"They're gonna have to get a solid black vote to win Louisiana," said Democratic state Sen. Lambert Boissiere. If not, "then they lose. They lose. Louisiana's going to be a key state."
A full third of Louisiana's electorate is African American, and traditionally they vote Democratic in high numbers. But for that vote to pay off for Gore in this battleground state, local African-American leaders say voter turnout is key -- and it has got to be high.
"In this state, they've done a very poor job. There's no question about it," said state Sen. Donald Cravins, a Democrat from the southwest Louisiana city of Lafayette. "It amounts to what has been said that perhaps the Democratic Party is taking the black vote for granted."
Gore-Lieberman ads begin running Wednesday in 90 African-American papers in 14 battleground states. But Terry Jones, publisher of the New Orleans Data News Weekly and vice president of a national newspaper association for the black press, says that campaign is not nearly aggressive enough.
"To be honest with you, I don't see the enthusiasm that I would like to see," Jones said.
Gore aides say the campaign and the Democratic Party launched an advertising effort in the African-American community that will be the largest ever in a presidential race -- $1.5 million of newspaper advertising, and $4 million spent on radio. Meanwhile, Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush's local campaign acknowledges little has been done to lure Louisiana's African-American vote.
Susan Eddington, coordinator of the Bush effort in Louisiana, says the campaign realizes it must reach out.
"We cannot win the state without the black vote, but we're not deceiving ourselves," Eddington said. "We're not expecting to get 50 or 60 percent, but we would like to see 10."
The task of energizing black Democrats falls largely to New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, whose father served as the city's first African-American mayor during the era of President Bush. His message to African-American voters: Be afraid enough of this new Bush to vote for Gore.
"I'm fearful of a George Bush administration," Morial said. "I'm fearful because when I'm reminded of Reagan-Bush, I'm reminded of the most difficult economic times in this state in my lifetime."
Morial said that message will be hammered home to voters in Louisiana's predominantly African-American precincts as the election nears.
"Most of the polling I have seen here in New Orleans shows there's decisive, strong support for Vice President Gore, but we know we have our work to do to turn the vote out," Morial explained.