After four hard years, Black America remains loyal to its President

Turnout of African Americans remains key to Obama's chances

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The Independent US

In the predominantly black city of Petersburg, Virginia, Democratic campaigners are battling against one of the major challenges facing President Barack Obama's re-election campaign – disillusionment and disappointment among the demographic that voted in record numbers to propel him into the White House four years ago.

Ida Edwards, a 74-year-old volunteer for the Obama campaign who leads a neighbourhood team in Petersburg, admits that the city's enthusiasm for the country's first black president has taken a hit within his core constituency.

With joblessness at 11 per cent, incomes declining, and poverty a major problem for the city, Ms Edwards says the people she canvasses commonly ask her: "What has [Obama] done for me?" But Ms Edwards, a retired nurse, has a ready response. She talks about Mr Obama's healthcare reform and the easing of credit card restrictions. "A lot has been done by Obama, but people didn't know. He can't say he's going to help black people as president because he's the leader of all the people."

In the swing state of Virginia, where Mr Obama is narrowly ahead of his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, it is vital for the Obama campaign that the turnout among black voters – which dipped in the midterm elections two years ago – returns to record levels next week. In 2008, Mr Obama became the first Democrat in four decades to carry Virginia, and garnered 96 per cent of the African American vote nationwide.

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 92 per cent of registered African American voters surveyed said they are backing Mr Obama this time, and five per cent supported Republican nominee Mitt Romney. In Virginia, tens of thousands of new African American voters have registered, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. But the all-important question for the Obama campaign is – is this key demographic energised enough to turn out on 6 November?

The excitement that accompanied Mr Obama's historic win four years has now turned to a dimmer form of optimism among many African American voters in Petersburg, who are now hoping that, if re-elected, Mr Obama may be able to go some way towards making up for the disappointments of the last four years.

Andre Pettiford, a security officer, said that although plenty of his co-workers had lost their jobs, Mr Obama can't be blamed for the economic crisis. "I'm planning on voting for him," he said. "We should give him a chance to turn things around." In 2008, the largest voting demographic to cast their ballot in favour of Mr Obama was African American women, and Jennifer Alford was one of them.

She says that she intends to vote for the President again next Tuesday, though she knows people who blame him for the high jobless rate in Petersburg. Ms Alford, 33, who works at Richmond airport, wants to keep the former Massachusetts governor at bay. "If Romney gets in, then it's downhill all the way," she says. "He'll just help the rich get richer." And Mr Obama "is doing pretty good. He deserves a second term," she says, inhaling a cigarette outside the Petersburg public library, located a stone's throw from the city's historic district. "It takes more than four years".