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Baltimorean says black support is strong for Obama

Elections

One in a series of profiles of Maryland delegates to the Democratic National Convention

Herbert Graves has volunteered for Democratic candidates for decades, but he says no one has inspired him the same way as Barack Obama.

Graves first heard Obama speak at the Democratic convention in 2004 — and he was hooked. At this year's convention in Charlotte, which begins Tuesday, the Bolton Hill Democrat is a delegate supporting the president's re-election. During those eight years, Graves said, his support never waned.

"It wasn't just him being black, that wasn't it at all," Graves, who is African-American, said in explaining his support for Obama. "It was what he said, how he said it, the things that he looked at that we could do."

Graves, who is 64 and retired, was heavily involved in Obama's 2008 campaign. He was a founding member of the Baltimore for Barack group, which spearheaded the president's campaign in the city. He also traveled to the battleground state of Ohio to help register voters. He pressed on with that volunteer work even after coming down with pneumonia.

On the Sunday before the 2008 election, he said, the effort paid off.

"I shook his hand — and I cried," the Vietnam veteran said. "The entire idea of the campaign was so overwhelming. We had a drive that was built in us and it was something that was different and unique and it's just one of those things that you can't put your finger on."

African Americans turned out big for Obama in 2008 — blacks made up 12 percent of the vote four years ago — but the administration has struggled somewhat to keep the important demographic on board. If black turnout falls by only 5 percentage points, it could cost Obama North Carolina and cause him significant trouble in Ohio and Virginia, a July report by the civil rights group National Urban League predicted.

Graves said he doesn't believe the energy has diminished much in Baltimore or in the rest of Maryland.

"The drive is still there," he said, "the desire is still there."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jfritze

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