President Barack Obama could have a political problem with black voters in 2012.
Obama is still immensely popular with African Americans. But at a town hall-style meeting held in Miami Gardens this week, some black leaders and Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus said they are exasperated that the country’s first black president has not done more to address the needs of the black community — particularly its 16 percent unemployment rate.
“Can you say, ‘black’?” Rep. Maxine Waters of California snapped at Don Graves, the executive director of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. He had told the crowd of hundreds at Mount Hermon AME Church that Obama is focused on helping every community, though “certain communities have been hit harder.”
The meeting Monday night, coupled with a jobs fair in downtown Miami on Tuesday, was part of a national, five-city tour intended to draw attention to hurting, urban communities and to connect employers to job-seekers.
The tour was a contrast to Obama’s bus trip last week when he ventured to rural areas in the Midwest before heading with his family to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts for vacation.
The White House is expected to unveil a new jobs plan after Labor Day.
The tense moments at the meeting underscored an increasing cause of concern for Obama, who has argued that turning the economy around will help all communities. Some black leaders want the president to target aid directly to African Americans, who were crucial to Obama’s victory three years ago. In 2008, Obama won 96 percent of the vote from black women vote; 95 percent of black men.
But Obama is trying to appeal to independents and other voters across the political spectrum. And even if he does not champion African Americans as much as some black leaders hope, it is unlikely that black voters would vote against him.
Still, there is another possibility: that discouraged black voters stay home on Election Day next year, a particular worry for Democrats in swing states with sizable black populations — such as Florida, where about 13 percent of registered voters are black.
At the meeting, panelists acknowledged that blacks find it difficult to disagree with Obama or to say that they are disappointed with him because they fear their concerns will be misinterpreted as flagging support.
“We don’t want to talk about it, because we don’t want to come across as being critical of the president,” said the Rev. Victor Curry, president of the local NAACP. But African Americans, he said “should expect something from the man that’s getting 90 percent of their support.”
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