John F. Kerry accused President Bush of hanging a "do not enter" sign on the White House doors for many African Americans, as the Democratic nominee stepped up his campaign yesterday to maximize turnout among minority voters.
Speaking to thousands of black Democrats gathered here for the Congressional Black Caucus annual gala, Kerry reached back to the Scriptures several times to also criticize Bush for ignoring those most in need and for talking of compassion but belying it with his actions in office.
Kerry used the story of the Good Samaritan and the two men who passed a robbed and beaten man to condemn Bush. "This president has talked about compassion, but he's walked right by. He's seen people in need but crossed right by," Kerry said.
Kerry said one group in particular has been shut out -- both from "compassionate conservatism" and the president's time: African Americans. Bush has not met with the NAACP and the CBC because White House officials say the groups are openly hostile to the president and his policies. Bush did meet with the Urban League, which represents thousands of blacks, and he appointed several black leaders to top positions in his administration, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and others.
"We are not going to allow them to put a 'do not enter' sign on the White House door," Kerry said at the Washington Convention Center. The CBC is made up of 39 House members, including some of the most liberal and most critical of Bush. Earlier in the campaign, some black leaders felt a similar sign had been hung on Kerry's campaign office because the Democratic nominee had so few minorities in key posts. Since then, Kerry has hired several minority aides and has promised to spend a lot of money on ads and outreach targeting black voters, who are among the most reliable Democrats. In 2000, Al Gore won more than 90 percent of the black vote.
Kerry suggested to the audience that Bush may try to keep some of them from voting. "What they did in Florida in 2000, some say they may be planning to do this year in battleground states all across this country," Kerry said. "Well, we are here to let them know that we will fight tooth and nail to make sure that, this time, every vote is counted and every vote counts."
The Kerry campaign is planning ads for black-owned TV stations, making good on a promise earlier this year to disgruntled members of the CBC. The Democratic National Committee started running a radio ad on Friday accusing Bush of doing little for black voters.
Earlier in the day, Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), spoke at the CBC's prayer breakfast, delivering an elegiac and subdued speech that recalled the "unity" of the nation after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and referred to the presidential campaign only in passing.
Edwards repeatedly urged his listeners to "walk with me through this day," and he went on to describe several unnamed family members and friends of Sept. 11 victims as they marked the third anniversary of the attacks.
"Today, a crowd gathers in front of their church," Edwards said. "It is a town where so many -- 53 -- were taken before their time. . . . Today, they are there to ring a new church bell."
He alluded only briefly to the presidential campaign, when he repeatedly called for "one America" -- evoking his campaign theme. On the stump, Edwards routinely says the nation is divided between "two Americas" -- one for the wealthy and connected, and one for everyone else -- and he pledges to unite the two.
"This season of hope should not and does not have to end tomorrow," Edwards said. "We do not have to wait for yet another anniversary to come and go. We know what we want in this country. We want that one America."
The friendly audience of African American political leaders matched Edwards's somber restraint throughout the speech, applauding only three times. They were silent until about two-thirds of the way through his 20-minute speech, when Edwards described "a young boy who always sits at the back of the classroom, who still can't read the basic instructions."
"Let's build him a school that's a palace for learning, so no child is ever afraid to ask for help," Edwards said, to polite applause.
Some Democrats have expressed concern over the past week that Kerry and Edwards are not returning the harsh blows that Bush and Vice President Cheney, the Republican team, have leveled at Kerry recently.
This morning, Edwards begins a five-day, eight-state campaign swing through the West and Midwest, including stops in New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Ohio and Kentucky. Kerry will head to Wisconsin tomorrow night, and then to Ohio and Michigan on Tuesday.