In NAACP speech, Kerry taps lingering anger over 2000 vote

Democrat criticizes Bush for skipping convention

Election 2004

July 16, 2004|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - Moving to bolster his political base in the black community, Democrat John Kerry rallied supporters at the NAACP convention a day after unveiling a plan to spend $2 million on campaign ads aimed at African-Americans in battleground states.

Kerry's presidential campaign announced Wednesday that it planned to run TV, radio and newspaper ads on issues that concern the black community. Yesterday, the Massachusetts senator criticized President Bush for skipping the NAACP convention and tapped into lingering anger over the 2000 election, when tens of thousands of blacks and Democrats were prohibited from voting in Florida.

Standing before a cheering audience of about 7,000 people in the Philadelphia Convention Center, Kerry said: "The president may be too busy to speak to you now, but he's going to have plenty of time to speak after Nov. 2," Election Day.

Bush turned down an invitation to appear at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's convention but is scheduled to address another influential black organization, the Urban League, next week.

Bush has not spoken to the NAACP since the 2000 campaign, when the NAACP National Voter Fund ran an ad portraying him as unsympathetic to the dragging death of James Byrd in Texas, where Bush was governor.

Since that campaign, the NAACP has called Bush an illegal president, compared his anti-abortion views to the Taliban and called his trip to Africa a photo-op.

Yesterday, White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said Bush was at odds with NAACP leaders, not his "many friends who belong to the NAACP." Nonetheless, his absence was viewed as a snub.

Though polls show Democratic voters united against Bush, Kerry is not beyond reproach from black leaders. They want more minorities on his staff, and black leaders, including some who advise Kerry's campaign, privately worry about perceptions that the Massachusetts senator has shallow ties to their community compared with the last two Democratic nominees, Al Gore and Bill Clinton.

While Kerry is likely to match Gore's 9-to-1 advantage with blacks on Nov. 2, they said, Republican tactics and Kerry failings could suppress the turnout.

David Bositis, a senior political analyst at the Joint Center on Political and Economic Studies, a think tank on black issues, said Kerry won't have a hard time wooing black voters if they perceive that he'll follow up on his campaign promises. Bositis pointed out that Kerry received the largest portion of the black vote in the primaries, even when a black candidate, Al Sharpton, was in the race. "It's clear that many African-Americans want Bush out and will vote for the candidate they think can do that," he said.

In what could be a preview of his campaign strategy in the black community, Kerry tapped into the anti-Bush sentiment that punctuated the NAACP convention. Referring to the voting problems in Florida in 2000, Kerry said it was "a great injustice to all Americans when African-Americans are denied their right to vote."

Vincent Hutchings, an associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan, questioned Kerry's political wisdom for bringing up the voting problems in the 2000 election.

"I'm somewhat surprised that he did that and that he would do it in front of the cameras and so far in ahead of the election," Hutchings said. "The Republican campaign will likely say he is rehashing the past, perhaps playing the race card."

Hutchings also said Kerry faces another challenge: appealing to black voters without alienating white voters. Supporting issues such as affirmative action or raising the minimum wage might win black support but spark a white-voter backlash.

Throughout his speech yesterday, Kerry underscored one of his campaign messages: the concept of two Americas - one wealthy and one struggling. He declared that he would help middle-class families and struggling working people who are uninsured or have seen their jobs sent abroad.

Kerry also stressed issues of concern to African-Americans, saying the jobless rate of blacks is about 10 percent, twice that of whites, and that blacks are disproportionately affected by high health care costs and disparities in education. "You know the truth, like I do, that today we still see two school systems - one for the well off and one for the left out," he said.

Kerry said if he is elected president he'll push for U.N. sanctions on Sudan and work with the United Nations and allies to stop the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region.

"The government-sponsored atrocities there must be called by their name, genocide," he said. "We must have international humanitarian intervention. It is the lesson of Rwanda. It is the lesson of World War II."

Some at the convention said they were inspired by Kerry's remarks but cautious.

"It was a message of hope," said Edith Lollie, a retired teacher. While she said she liked Kerry's remarks, she hopes he can deliver on his promises: "I'm on my guard. But then again, anyone is better than Bush."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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