WASHINGTON DC (CNN) - The presidential campaign trail is making its way through New Orleans. The top two Democratic presidential contenders made stops there to show their support for a city rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina. They’re also in the Crescent City to reach out to a key part of their party, black voters.
Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spoke at the Essence Music Festival, which is one of the nation’s top black cultural events. The festival, back in New Orleans after a year away due to the damage from Katrina, has long been a mix of great music and serious efforts towards social change. This year it’s also mixing music with presidential politics.
Obama took center stage at the festival Thursday night. The Senator from Illinois told the crowd that “if all of you are not just ready to rebuild New Orleans, but rebuild the New Orleans all across America, on the southside of Chicago or in New York City, and in Los Angeles and Houston and all across America, I am convinced that we will not just win an election this time out, but more importantly we are going to transform a country.”
Clinton spoke to the crowd on Friday. The Senator from New York also focused her comments on New Orleans, saying, “I believe it’s an American responsibility to rebuild New Orleans, not just one of Louisiana and New Orleans but all of us working together.”
John Edwards isn’t at the Essence Music Festival, but the former Senator from North Carolina kicked off his presidential campaign in the Crescent City, formally declaring his candidacy in the devastated Ninth Ward of New Orleans last December.
So why all the attention to New Orleans?
Because the city’s plight has become a national storyline and because Katrina had a devastating effect on the city’s black community.
Black voters are crucial to the Democratic Party. “Nearly nine in ten blacks vote Democratic, making them the most reliable Democratic voting bloc in the country,” says CNN Pollster Keating Holland.
And they’ll play an important role in picking the next Democratic presidential nominee, especially in the early primary states of South Carolina and Florida.
Senators Clinton and Obama are neck and neck among black voters in the most recent poll. But it’s still very early and many voters haven’t made up their minds yet. We caught up with Renae Bradley outside the Essence festival. She told us that she’s “not feeling that at this point either Clinton or Obama would be that much of a difference.”
One thing’s for sure. Expect the attention by the candidates to New Orleans and to black voters to continue. Next week all of the Democratic Presidential hopefuls will speak at the NAACP convention in Detroit.
– CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser