Eldwin Griffin said he can't even comprehend why white Republicans would re-elect President Bush.
As a black Democrat, he completely scoffs at the idea.
"This country's really regressing," he said. "I think even a blind person could see this ... (Mr. Bush) is really out of touch with the American people."
In speaking with other blacks through personal dealings and in his role as Edgefield County's NAACP president, the Rev. Griffin says he's definitely not just jumping on the anti-Bush bandwagon.
National figures show that with less than two weeks until Election Day, Sen. John Kerry has a strong hold on black voters - as has been the tradition for Democratic candidates.
But that hold is not as strong as it could be, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Study's National Opinion Poll released this week.
It indicates the Massachusetts senator has less support from blacks than his predecessors, which is causing concern among some Democrats.
According to the poll, Mr. Kerry's approval rating among black voters is 78 percent vs. 16 percent for Mr. Bush. The two previous Democratic candidates, Al Gore and Bill Clinton, each garnered about 90 percent of the black vote.
University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said there's no chance Mr. Bush will steal away a majority of black voters, but there's a good chance he could fare better than he did in 2000, when less than 10 percent supported him.
"If he could get anywhere between 20 and 25 percent of the black vote, it would be phenomenal and he could chalk it up as a major victory," Dr. Bullock said.
The Rev. Otis B. Moss III, the pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, said there are some black Augustans who will vote for Mr. Bush because of his opposition to gay marriage, but overall he thinks Mr. Kerry's stock is actually rising in the black community.
Throughout the summer the sentiment was very much against Mr. Bush, but not really in favor of Mr. Kerry because he was not connecting with black voters and their issues, the Rev. Moss said.
In the past month, though, ambivalence toward Mr. Kerry appears to be turning to support, mainly because of a few recent events, the Rev. Moss said.
"They're upset about the attacks by (Bush adviser) Karl Rove's team on Kerry in reference to his service in the Vietnam War. They saw it as an attack on them and anyone who thought the war was not completely right," the Rev. Moss said.
That the president did not attend the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convention also turned black voters on to Mr. Kerry, he said.
Barbara Thurmond, the president of Blacks Against Black Crime Inc., a local nonprofit agency, said her vote is undoubtedly going to Mr. Kerry, although she has no real attachment to him.
What Ms. Thurmond said she does care about is the economy, the loss of jobs overseas and improving funding for the No Child Left Behind Act - three issues that arose when black community leaders were interviewed.
Another deciding issue among black voters is the war in Iraq.
The Rev. Griffin said the feeling in the black community is that too many American soldiers - many of whom are black - are losing their lives for insufficient reasons.
"It's like 'Here we go again with our boys,'" he said, referring to past military sacrifices. "We've helped build a nation, but we've never been embraced."
This sense of betrayal extends to both parties, which is why blacks struggle to find a candidate they can get behind, the Rev. Moss said.
"Republicans distance themselves from issues of affirmative action, freedoms and civil liberties," he said. "Democrats take our vote for granted to try to get the support of the soccer mom."
Still, the Rev. Moss said the swell of negativity against the sitting president will propel a large number of black voters to the polls, even young black voters.
The Rev. Denise Freeman, a former congressional candidate who is active in the Democratic Party, said she's troubled by polls that show Mr. Kerry losing support among blacks and believes such information deters voters from casting their ballots.
"These polls are so bad because people get beat down and think 'My vote won't count,'" she said. "But you'd better vote, because the story's not over yet."
Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Black voters in Georgia in 2000:
15.35 million registered (63.6 percent of eligible voters)
8.78 million not registered (36.4 percent of eligible voters)
12.92 million voted (53.5 percent of eligible voters)
11.21 million did not vote (46.5 percent of eligible voters)
Registered voters in Richmond County as of Oct. 7, 2004:
41,957 total black voters85,533 total registered voters
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Georgia Secretary of State
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