By Craig Timberg and Lonnae O’Neal Parker
The Washington Post
CLEVELAND —For many African Americans, this election was not just about holding on to history, but also confronting what they perceived as a shadowy campaign to suppress the black vote.
Black voters responded with a historic turnout here in Ohio and strong showings across a range of battleground states, according to exit poll results. Buoyed by a sophisticated ground operation by the Obama campaign, African Americans helped provide the edge in Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and perhaps Florida, which remained too close to call Wednesday. Their support narrowed President Obama’s losing margin in North Carolina.
“This is a man who is fighting for the opportunity for all people to reach the American dream,” said retired Marine Andre Baird, 55, as champagne dripped down his bald head at an Obama victory party in Cleveland on Tuesday night. “These hands,” Baird added, his right hand clenching into a fist, “have knocked on at least a thousand doors!”
African American voters described broad support for Obama, despite some disappointments, and a deep feeling of empathy for the political attacks he endured while attempting to revive a disastrous economy. Expectations for his second term are sky-high, many said.
Analysts, voters and politicians said that a series of episodes here in Ohio — where exit polls showed black voters accounting for 15 percent of Tuesday’s electorate, up from 11 percent in 2008 — were seen by African Americans as efforts to keep them from voting, stirring a profound backlash on Election Day.
“That was a strong motivator because we know we got here through blood, sweat and tears,” said state Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland.
She was among those who fought for the removal of dozens of billboards that appeared in largely black enclaves of Cleveland and Milwaukee declaring “Voter Fraud is a Felony!” and threatening jail time and hefty fines for violators.