The fight over Ohio’s 18 electoral votes is getting nastier, but a recent scene highlighted what African Americans need to do to swing the state to the president. Black voters jammed the office on the last day to register for the election.

A total of 3,748 people participated in Ohio’s early voting on October 9, but Board Election Director Jane Platte wasn’t surprised at the record attendance.  “There was a heightened sense of awareness that voting day is near,” she told the Plain Dealer.

That energy is what African Americans need to put Ohio and the other swing states in President Obama’s column.

“If there is as good a Black turnout as last time, and the direction of the vote is the same as last time, yes, there’s a very good chance that President Obama would win, “ says David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Here’s why the swing states are so important: a presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win.  President Obama has roughly 243 votes, while Mitt Romney has 191.  According to polls, the candidates are tied. In such a tight race, relatively few states decide the outcome.

Ohio is the most valued prize. John F. Kennedy, back in 1960, was the last candidate who won office without carrying Ohio. If Obama follows suit, he will have made history a second time.

That’s why candidates and their supporters are spending time and money in places like Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and Virginia.  The four states share another trait: the 2010 U.S. Census revealed they’re among the 10 states with the nation’s largest Black populations—and the strongest potential for African Americans to impact the election.

A recent Gallup poll shows why the president needs African American voters. The survey found registered voters favored Obama over Romney 49 to 46 percent. But likely voters supported Romney over Obama, 49 to 47 percent.

The pollsters noted Romney supporters were more apt to say that they would “definitely vote…These attitudes indicate that Romney at this juncture will benefit from higher turnout on Election Day among his supporters than will Obama.”

That prediction seems to be coming true in North Carolina. Although African Americans constitute about 22 percent of registered voters, the percentage of registered Democrats has fallen by roughly 3 percent since the last election.  The percentage of independent voters has grown by the same amount. Those voters back Romney, 54 to 40 percent, according to a survey from North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling. Romney’s strength with that group and his comfortable lead with White voters pushed him slightly ahead on the president in the same poll.

Political analyst Jonathan Kappler, research director for the non-partisan North Carolina FreeEnterprise (cq) Foundation, says the independents are newcomers living in suburban Raleigh and Charlotte, two of the state’s largest cities.

“They are outsiders…who might have been registered with a particular party in their home state. When they move here, they’re not sure where they fit in with the political culture here and so they register unaffiliated.”

African Americans, on the other hand, seem to turn a deaf ear to any party but the Democrats.

“Not even Eangelicals vote as cohesively Republican, as African Americans vote Democrat,” says Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie. “It’s not so much a question of who African Americans are going to vote for; it’s a question of whether Blacks will turn out at the same rate that they did in 2008. And there are a number of reasons to suspect that’s not going to happen.”

She thinks turnout might fall some because Obama’s re-election doesn’t carry the same historical weight as his election. Plus, she says, the president hasn’t lived up to “excessively high expectations,” of his tenure. “There are people who are disappointed and they may show their disappointment by not turning out to vote,” she says.

University of Akron history professor Zachery Williams doesn’t doubt that African Americans will hit the polls, in spite of controversies over voter identification requirements and early voting hours that are roiling his state. He believes Ohio will go for the president, and President Obama occupy the Oval Office for four more years.

“I think the passion is there, the interest is there,” Williams says. “I just don’t think that the media has covered it in 2012 in the way they did in 2008.”