Rise in black turnout could hurt Bush

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The Independent US

Black leaders are predicting a higher turnout among African-Americans in November's presidential election, a factor that could prove crucial in tipping the race in favour of John Kerry.

Black leaders are predicting a higher turnout among African-Americans in November's presidential election, a factor that could prove crucial in tipping the race in favour of John Kerry.

One group, Hip Hop Summit Action, is boasting it has persuaded an additional 2 million blacks to register to vote.

The Kerry campaign is, meanwhile, turning to a new superstar in the Democratic Party to boost turnout numbers. He is Barack Obama, the Illinois state senator who wowed the party's Boston convention in July with his keynote speech. Mr Obama is so far ahead in his bid to capture a US Senate seat that he is increasingly switching his time and dollars to campaigning for Mr Kerry.

Latest polls give Mr Obama a 45-point lead over his Republican opponent, Alan Keyes, in Illinois. The two men joined in a first face-to-face debate on Monday night but there is little suspense over who will be the victor. History is being made meanwhile - it is the first time both parties have fielded black candidates to battle one another and, barring a miracle upset, Mr Obama will be only the fifth African-American to take a seat in the Senate.

While Mr Kerry struggles to connect with the black community in the way former president Bill Clinton was able to, several factors suggest that his support from African-Americans may be very high. Above all, there is the memory of 2000 when thousands of blacks found themselves unable to vote because of balloting foul-ups.

"Given the fact that there is a strong anti-Bush sentiment in the black community and what happened in 2000 with questions about black votes not being counted in Florida, you have the ingredients for a larger black turnout," argued Bruce Ransom, a political science professor at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Ben Chavis, a co-founder with music mogul Russell Simmons, of the Hip Hop Summit Action, said the group's registration drive had proven particularly successful. The group is especially targeting first-time voters. "Political scientists have underestimated the level of desire for change in the black community," he said at a press conference in Atlanta, citing the figure of 2 million new voters. "If we have a record turnout in key swing states, it's going to make a critical difference."

In coming days, Mr Obama, meanwhile, whose father was from Kenya and mother from Kansas, is expected to travel both to California and to Colorado - itself a fiercely contested state - to campaign for Mr Kerry. In the past week, his campaign has donated cheques worth $260,000 to Democratic Senate candidates in 13 states.

"Turnout is huge," Mr Obama said after a rally in Wisconsin this week. "If there are selective things that we can do that can be helpful, then we want to do them. The Kerry people are still making determinations as to what states remain in play. Safe to say we will probably have a couple more travel days this month."

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