African-American voters are likely to play a key role in deciding who wins this year's Democratic Party presidential nomination. The leading candidates are a novel pair in American presidential politics -- an African-American man with strong support among whites and a white woman and former first lady with strong support among blacks. VOA's Chris Simkins examines what is at stake as the primary election season heads to states with large African-American populations.

African-American voters have left their mark on presidential politics, especially for Democratic Party candidates. Professor Lorenzo Morris is head of the political science department at Howard University in Washington. He says, "Since President Roosevelt's election in the 1940s, there has been no Democratic presidential election, meaning one in which a Democrat has won, that has not been largely determined by the black vote, except for the 1964 vote of President Johnson."

Professor Morris says 90 percent of African-American voters are Democrats and their participation has increased since the 1980s. In 1984, Reverend Jesse Jackson became only the second African-American to mount a nationwide presidential campaign, winning 21 percent of the popular vote in a losing effort. In 1988, he ran a stronger campaign, winning 13 primaries and caucuses and capturing nearly seven million votes.

Political analysts say the black vote could have a significant impact on the 2008 presidential race, especially since public opinion polls show Democrats running ahead of their Republican Party rivals.

David Bositis is a senior research analyst with The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington. "African-Americans are an important voting bloc in several key states that will determine the outcome of the election,? he says, ?[in] states such as Missouri, Ohio and Florida. Those are states that if the Democrats carry [win] those states, the Democratic candidate is likely to be elected president."

That is good news for the leading Democratic Party hopefuls ? Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Both campaigns have been pushing hard to win the support of African-Americans, especially in key battleground states.

Kurt Schmoke is dean of Howard University's law school. In 1987, he became the first black elected mayor of the city of Baltimore, Maryland. "I think that many black voters have been inspired by a number of candidates, but the Obama candidacy has added something new, interesting and exciting,? says Schmoke. ?I do not necessarily want to imply that black voters are definitely going to vote for Barrack Obama but I think it simply added some excitement and interest and definitely is unique to the political environment."

Political observers believe if Obama were to win the Democratic Party nomination, black turnout at the polls in November would be record setting.  But they maintain no matter who the Democratic nominee is they cannot win the race for the White House without getting a majority of the black vote.