"So we’re going to make lemonade," Victor T. Curry, senior minister at New Birth Baptist Church, told 150 black pastors from South Florida on Monday.
Thus began Operation Lemonade, a massive vote-turnout operation scheduled to start before the first early in-person voting polls open Saturday, Oct. 27.
The effort is technically nonpartisan. The name "President Obama" was notably absent from the ministers’ gathering.
But it didn’t need to be said.
Black voters overwhelmingly support the president, who needs their vote more than ever now that he’s slipping in the polls to Mitt Romney in Florida and nationwide.
At the same time, Republicans are making a big push to bank early votes by absentee ballots.
So far, nearly 330,000 people have already voted by absentee ballot. Republicans, outnumbered in the state, have so far outvoted Democrats by absentee ballots, 44-40 percent.
The absentee-ballot data show that the biggest battleground is in the Tampa Bay area, where 44,000 ballots have been voted in Pinellas and 30,000 in Hillsborough counties — the two highest in the state. Democrats hold slight leads in voting those ballots, which are typically mailed in.
Miami-Dade is the third-most active county for absentee ballots — 25,000 have been voted so far — and Republicans hold a lead there.
Relatively few of the absentee ballot voters, though, are black.
By and large, black voters don’t trust the mail-in ballot system. And they prefer to head to the polls to personally hand their ballot to a local election official.
In 2008, black voters swamped the early voting polls, leading then-Gov. Charlie Crist to issue an executive order to keep the stations open longer. In all, early voting lasted a total of 120 hours over 14 days in 2008. Obama carried Florida — a must-win for his Republican opponents — and therefore won the presidency.
The GOP-controlled Legislature responded by capping early voting hours to a maximum 96 hours over eight days. It also eliminated early voting the Sunday before Election Day, when African Americans would vote in droves as part of their “souls to the polls” turnout tradition that began with the advent of early voting in 2002.
The Republican early vote limitations have black voters fired up — and ready to vote, Curry said.
"Last time it was about making history," Curry said. "This time it’s personal."