Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Can Barack Obama Get Black Voters in Ohio Excited?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Marcia Fudge attends a service at Mt. Zion Congregational Church in Cleveland on a recent Sunday.

At the same time, Fudge said it’s been difficult to get the White House to hear out the needs of her district.

As a group of children rehearsed with a piano in the background at the church, Fudge attributed her frustrations to the competitive nature of the Buckeye State. It’s hard for the president to balance his pitch to urban and rural voters in Ohio, she said.

“I also think, more importantly, that there is sometimes not the sensitivity to certain areas of the country out of some of the White House staff,” Fudge said. “They call us the ‘Rust Belt.’ I don’t think that we’re the ‘Rust Belt.’ I think we are the heart of America.”

A Different Campaign

As the GOP’s presidential hopefuls descend on Ohio ahead of next month’s Super Tuesday primary, the president’s campaign plans to open its sixth field office this week.

The Cuyahoga County office is one of two stations that never closed after Obama’s ’08 race. At the posh Shaker Heights storefront, volunteers and organizers work phone banks all week long. There’s a new poster up with the slogan “We Can’t Wait” sent directly from national headquarters in Chicago.

Volunteers tweet #teamcuyahogaisonfire when they’ve persuaded a voter. But the spirit in the office is merely smoldering on this gray Sunday evening.

A dozen volunteers use their cell phones to ring Ohio voters, guided by call sheets and talking points. The goal is to take the temperature of voters, Democrats and Republicans, said phone bank captain Judy Pugsley.

“The Obama campaign in ’08 was beginning to become computerized. This one has become completely data-oriented and computerized as far as collecting a lot of information,” said Pugsley, a 66-year-old retired nurse.

Pugsley struggles with her iPhone as she goes through her assigned list of registered voters. After about 30 minutes, campaign officials switched her and other phone bank participants to recruiting volunteers from a list of 2008 supporters.

“The ’08 campaign was a completely different campaign,” she added.

Obama’s Best Surrogate

First lady Michelle Obama has taken a particularly prominent role in reaching out to Ohio voters. Her visage frequents campaign paraphernalia here, and commercials for her “Let’s Move” campaign to battle childhood obesity run often on local television.

Marian Bryant, a 63-year-old urban planner and ardent Obama supporter, said she spoke to the first lady personally on a Feb. 2 conference call with Ohio voters.

“I think African-American folks like her,” Bryant said. “I see her as much more comfortable in her skin, much more comfortable than when he ran before.”

In her church basement’s social hall, a banner above Bryant reads, “Black History Month Is Every Month.” It stays up all year round. Churchgoers dine on pound cake served on aluminum and plastic platters — not the kind of dish the first lady would approve of.

The Obama campaign maintains it continued outreach to the black community in Ohio, citing budding neighborhood teams and Black History Month events, such as voter registration drives and house parties. But it still doesn’t seem like enough — at least not yet — Fudge said.

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