Black lawmakers criticize Kerry

Campaign hasn't done enough to energize, base, Md.'s Wynn says

September 11, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Kerry campaign has done too little to energize black voters, a traditional Democratic bloc that could be vital to the party's bid to defeat President Bush, Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County complained yesterday.

"To be maximally effective in the African-American community, they need ads on black radio and TV, with black people in speaking roles talking about housing issues, talking about health care issues, talking about education issues in a less generic way," Wynn said in an interview during the annual legislative convention of the Congressional Black Caucus. "It is critical that we do this now."

Wynn's remarks came on the heels of a heated meeting this week between House Democrats and senior advisers to Sen. John Kerry's campaign. After the advisers suggested ways for the lawmakers to help Kerry, the lawmakers replied, some emphatically, with advice on what the candidate himself should be doing to solidify his base.

The complaints about the Kerry team, some participants said, included that he was allowed to miss a Democratic event and that it did not have him respond more aggressively to attacks from Bush supporters.

Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama said the national party seems hesitant to call on black lawmakers except when it has to rally black voters, forgoing their insights on how best to motivate voters of all races in swing states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

"The party falls short in using us beyond the constraints of race," said Davis, a freshman. "I have a constituency that is largely white and conservative, not just black. It seems to me we can be useful in helping get all types to the polls - not only mobilizing minority votes."

The intraparty criticism comes seven weeks before Election Day, with polls showing that while black support for the Democratic ticket has held steady, Kerry trails among independent voters in some battleground states. A CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll conducted in the past week showed Bush solidly ahead in Missouri and Ohio, where Kerry has campaigned heavily. And though independents seemed to favor Kerry a few weeks ago, the latest polling suggests he is losing some of those voters to Bush.

Wynn said the Kerry campaign had failed to marshal black community-based voter drive organizations and local leaders with experience registering voters. The campaign, he said, should use caucus members and black state legislators to help shore up the Democratic base "because we have more experience in those things that will turn out the African-American vote."

"If we need a super turnout to offset some losses in other communities, then the campaign needs to do something more to broaden the base," Wynn said. He said he intended his remarks as constructive ideas, not as an attack on Kerry's team.

Kerry, who is scheduled to address the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual black-tie awards dinner tonight in Washington, also plans to meet privately with caucus members this morning.

The caucus chairman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, said members have myriad suggestions for Kerry. Cummings' own advice is simple: "Stick to the basics."

"I do believe that if he stuck to that agenda, he would do extremely well and not get thrown out of focus when dealing with the Swift boat ads and other such issues," Cummings said. "If I'm out of a job, like one in every 10 black people, I could care less what happened 30 years ago. I want to know what's going to happen today and over the next four years."

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