Monday, October 11, 2004

MIAMI — Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry and civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson told black voters at a church here yesterday that President Bush’s support for a constitutional amendment against homosexual “marriage” shouldn’t be enough to earn their vote.

Mr. Kerry attended Mass at a Catholic church in North Miami, and then spoke during services at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Miami , as he and several black Democratic leaders tried to rally black voters.

“How many of you — someone from your family — married somebody of the same sex?” Mr. Jackson asked of the congregation of about 500. After nobody raised a hand, he asked, “Then how did that get in the middle of the agenda?”

“If your issues are cancer and Medicare and education and jobs and Social Security and decent housing, then how did someone else put their agenda in the front of the line?” he asked.

Following him a few minutes later, Mr. Kerry urged his audience to try to ignore diversions from the issues Mr. Jackson had mentioned.

“All they’re going to do is attack and attack and try and divert, and push some hot button that has nothing to do with the quality of your life on a daily basis,” the senator from Massachusetts said.

Both parties wonder how well black voters, who traditionally vote Democratic, will turn out to support Mr. Kerry on Nov. 2. The senator has invested time in the past two weeks visiting churches with primarily black congregations and meetings of ministers.

The issue of banning homosexuals from marrying is a wild card, with polls showing black voters overwhelmingly in support of such a ban.

But Mr. Kerry yesterday said, “Don’t let them fool you with these diversionary tactics.”

He appeared at yesterday’s service with Mr. Jackson and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas; Rep. Kendrick B. Meek of Florida; Mr. Meek’s mother, former Rep. Carrie Meek; and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who campaigned against Mr. Kerry for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“He’s fighting against liars and demons,” Mrs. Meek said.

Mr. Sharpton said, “I believe in my heart that the future of this country and the future of this world, and the world in which we have come to believe, will rest in our ability to come out in big numbers and elect this man on November 2.”

Mr. Kerry told the congregation he is taking steps to allay the grievance of many Florida blacks that their votes were not counted in 2000.

“Never again will a million African-Americans be denied their right to exercise their vote in the United States of America,” he said.

Before attending the two-hour Baptist service, Mr. Kerry attended Mass and took Communion at St. James Catholic Church in North Miami, where the Rev. Jean Pierre, who recently returned from a hurricane relief mission in Haiti, urged support for “our neighbors to the South.”

“We need to help them, so they don’t feel the need to come over here,” Father Pierre said.

Haitian refugees, who unlike Cubans are regularly returned home if caught on U.S. soil, is an important issue for voters here.

At a town hall meeting Saturday, Mr. Kerry was asked twice about the issue, and was asked again later that evening in interviews with local television stations.

In an interview, he seemed to agree with Father Pierre’s stance: “What we need to do — I am going to change the policy, but the way I’m going to change the policy initially is by helping people be able to stay in Haiti,” Mr. Kerry told WPBF-TV.

If the Catholic priest was trying to send a message to Mr. Kerry, Pastor Gaston E. Smith at the Baptist church was trying to send a message to his congregation.

“For every Goliath, God has a David,” he said. “For every Calvary’s cross, God has a Christ Jesus. To bring our country out of despair, discouragement, despondency and disgust, God has a John Kerry.”

Mr. Kerry mostly sat stolidly during the 20-minute sermon, nodding slightly.

Mr. Smith said God can work His will through the election.

“If he did it for Clinton, he can do it for you,” he said.

Speaking before the pastor, Mr. Kerry, as he often does at religious gatherings, tried to put Mr. Bush and his administration into a biblical context, though never mentioning them by name.

“Maybe these are the folks from Jeremiah, who are reminded they have eyes but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear,” he said.

Neither Mr. Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney campaigned yesterday, with Mr. Bush spending time at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

But their campaign roundly criticized Mr. Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards, who appeared on five different Sunday political talk shows, for contradicting himself and Mr. Kerry on the threat posed by Iraq before the war.

Mr. Sharpton said yesterday that he has buried the hatchet with Mr. Jackson, after the two had feuded on and off for years.

“We can’t keep telling young folks to quit fighting and doing each other wrong, and not do that ourselves,” he said, calling Mr. Jackson his “mentor.”

That prompted Mr. Kerry to use a line from Mr. Bush’s 2000 campaign, telling the congregation, “I tell you something folks, I am a uniter, not a divider.”

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