President Obama is making his second visit to the city in as many weeks–and is calling upon an unlikely ally to shore up the support of his political base.
Obama will be speaking Wednesday for the first time as commander in chief at the annual convention of the National Action Network and standing with its founder, the Rev. Al Sharpton–whom the President largely ignored before his 2008 election.
The symbolic speech at the Sheraton in midtown–coming just days after the President held two events in Harlem–indicates that Obama, who is battling slipping poll numbers, is trying to bolster his standing among African-Americans, political scientists said.
“It proves again that 2012 will be very different than 2008,” said Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia. “Then, Obama was very wary of the race issue and of being labeled as a ‘black candidate.'”
“But some of the enthusiasm surrounding that election has faded,” said Sabato. “He needs an injection of energy and Sharpton can provide some of that, at least in the black community.”
Obama and Sharpton have always been uneasy partners.
Sharpton–whose own political campaigns were defined by racial issues–initially questioned the Illinois senator’s qualifications, and at first seemed inclined to support Hillary Clinton.
“This shows clout and power for Sharpton,” Sheinkopf [Hank Sheinkopf, a political consultant] said, “and for Obama the message he’s sending is clear: ‘I’m African-American, I’m protecting my base, and AlSharpton is going to help me do it.'”
“Obama knows he’s going to need the minority voter and the liberal white voter to turn out in big numbers if he has a real opponent next November,” he said.
“Obama needed four out of 10 white votes in 2008, so he had to strike a different tone [than Sharpton] and form a different coalition,” said Sabato.