Democrats push to get black voters to the polls. Dukakis has support of traditionally Democratic black voters, but the question remains whether or not Democrats can get these voters to the polls to help win key states.
Chicago — On Chicago's South Side in a restored movie palace, a mostly black crowd applauded Michael Dukakis. It applauded when he spoke about South Africa.
It applauded when he laid out his presidential agenda.
But it is not at all clear that blacks will follow the Democrats' script on election day.
Among black voters, who usually vote overwhelmingly Democratic, some seem unenthusiastic about the Massachussetts governor and may not vote at all. While last- minute voter campaigns could change the picture, low black turnout in major cities would lessen Mr. Dukakis's chance to win key swing states.
So far, the signs are not encouraging for the Democrats.
A new poll conducted for the Joint Center for Political Studies indicates that black turnout could fall this year in relation to white turnout, reversing previous trends.
And lack of enthusiasm for the presidential race seems widespread among blacks:
In Cleveland: ``We don't think he's making the effort,'' says a frustrated Ike Thompson, a Dukakis campaign coordinator for Cleveland-area blacks. ``I feel like telling him to go south.''
In New York City: ``I certainly don't intend to vote for Bush. But I'm not sure I'm going to vote for Dukakis,'' says Beatrice Marriot. ``Neither one of them says anything about the black people and their problems.''
In Atlanta: ``On a scale of 1to 10, enthusiasm is about a 6,'' says Angelo Fuster, a former city official who works frequently on local Democratic campaigns. Even those working to register black voters are not sure people will vote, he says.
The Dukakis appearance in Chicago early last week was designed to shore up his black support. It drew mixed reviews.
``People were going through the motions before,'' says Charles Watson Jr., an Operation PUSH staff member and Dukakis convert. Now, he says, blacks are more willing to work or vote for Dukakis. ``You look at the alternative, and you have to do something, you have to be true to your party,'' he says.
Cheryl Lavender isn't so sure. ``Dukakis has some serious problems,'' she says. ``He don't know me - and I don't know him.''
The black vote is important in places like Chicago and Cleveland because a Democrat must run up huge majorities in such metropolitan areas to offset GOP strength elsewhere in their states. For the first time ever, in two separate elections this year, turnout in Cleveland's black wards exceeded that of the white wards by a sizable margin.
Apathy among black voters is due to several factors, say political analysts and black activists. Among them:
General lack of interest - black and white - in the presidential election. For example, if black voters turn out in large numbers in Mississippi, Dukakis can thank state candidates - namely Rep. Mike Espy and his extensive get-out-the-vote efforts. Elsewhere, only a handful of local races are creating much enthusiasm among blacks.
Disillusionment with Dukakis's handling of Jesse Jackson - especially his failure to notify the Rev. Mr. Jackson of his vice-presidential pick. ``I think that was more or less unpardonable,'' says Peter Lawson Jones, who still backs Dukakis and heads a Cleveland-area support group for him.
The lack of big voter-registration efforts nationwide. In some cities, such as Atlanta, voter registration among blacks is going well. In Chicago, it has fallen below initial hopes, while an increase in suburban, white Republican registration has grabbed headlines.
A feeling that Democrats shouldn't take the black vote for granted. ``You have to do more than a single well-received appearance at this stage of the campaign, and grass-roots efforts have just not come alive,'' says Milton Morris, research director at the Joint Center. ``The difficult thing for the Democrats is that the black community doesn't intensely dislike Bush and they don't fear Bush nearly as much as they did Reagan.''
``I'm going to vote for Bush,'' says Ruth Rogers, as she registers in a predominantly black Chicago neighborhood. ``I think he can do the job better than Dukakis.''
On the other hand, not even Republicans say Dukakis has run out of time to turn things around.
Marshall Ingwerson and Pamela Hartman contributed to this report.