-- President Bush said Friday that he has a "basically nonexistent" relationship with the NAACP's leadership and he refused for the consecutive fourth year to speak to the group's national convention.

Bush's assessment of his relationship with the nation's largest civil rights organization was a sharp reversal from his rhetoric during his last campaign. Then he spoke to the group's convention as part of an effort to show he was a different kind of Republican and said that "there is much we can do together to advance racial harmony and economic opportunity."

Bush will not be speaking before the 2004 convention, which will open Saturday in Philadelphia. Bush, during a day-long bus tour through Pennsylvania, said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer and two other state newspapers that he "admired some" NAACP leaders and said he would seek members' support "in other ways."

But he castigated the group's officers, who include President Kweisi Mfume and Chairman Julian Bond. "I would describe my relationship with the current leadership as basically nonexistent," Bush said, as reported by Knight Ridder Newspapers. "You've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me."

Earlier this week, the White House said the invitation had been declined because of scheduling commitments, and officials said that was the reason cited in the letter to the group. But when asked about the matter by reporters on Air Force One on Friday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan made it clear that a lot more was involved. "The current leadership of the NAACP has certainly made some rather hostile political comments about the president over the past few years," he said.

The NAACP said Bush is the first president since Warren G. Harding not to meet with the group while in office.

Bond has accused Republicans of "playing the race card in election after election." He said they have "appealed to that dark underside of American culture, to that minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality," and "preach racial neutrality and they practice racial division."

The snub could affect voter turnout in November. In Florida in 2000, Bush was hurt by heavy black turnout, organized in part by the NAACP because of the group's opposition to Republican Gov. Jeb Bush's rollback of the state's affirmative action program.