kendrick_meek.jpegSpecial to South Florida Times

Despite political polls showing the Republican party will make large gains in Congress in the general election on Nov. 2, a new report by a well-regarded think-tank said U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek and other Democrats can retain power if black voters show up at the polls with the same energy as in 2008 that propelled Barack Obama to the White House.

The report, released last week by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said polls this campaign season overlook the opinions black voters. In several states, African and Caribbean Americans make up a sizable segment of the population. Those states, including Florida, favored Obama in the presidential election two years ago.

Meek points to Obama’s victory and the gains made because of the black vote as he makes an historic run to become the first black Senator from Florida. The black vote is seen as a key to such a victory.

"I'm not here on behalf of the CEOs of the world. I'm for everyday people who work hard day in and day out," Meek is fond of saying. "If folks mobilize and tell their family and friends that we need a senator who stands up for them, not the special interests, we win."

The Joint Center report, released Oct. 14, said in Florida blacks comprised 58.5 percent of the turnout in 2008 and 37 percent in 2006. Overall turnout across the state was 63.8 percent and 44.2 percent, respectively. Those figures show that the black vote makes a difference.

The Center, based in Washington, D.C., is the country’s leading think-tank on black life.

Historically, black voters turn out at lower rates than whites, especially during mid-term elections. However, the authors of the report say, during the 1998 mid-terms the black vote “turned out in strong numbers and had a major impact on the outcome of the mid-term elections” in support of Bill Clinton, who, at that time, was under attack by congressional Republicans.

In 1998, the gap between black and white turnout decreased to 3.7 percent nationally and to three-tenths of a percentage point in Southern states.

Because of the heavy black turnout, the report said, Democrats won five additional House seats – the first time in 50 years for an incumbent president.

“It is clear from this analysis that we have not reached the final chapter of the election story in many key states and congressional districts and that African-American voters could end up being the authors of events if they match their turnout rates from other recent mid-term elections,” said Ralph B. Everett, president and CEO of the Joint Center.

Photo: Kendrick Meek