Monday, October 18, 2004

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Sen. John Edwards asked black voters to help Democratic Sen. John Kerry in “this march toward justice and equality” and urged Floridians to vote early as he continued a three-day tour of the state yesterday.

“At the end of the day, whatever John and I do, it’s you who can change this country by reaching out to your friends, your neighbors and your families to get them to the polls,” the Democratic vice-presidential nominee told a sprawling crowd of boisterous supporters on the University of Florida campus.

“There’s no reason to wait for November 2,” he said, referring to Florida’s election offices’ opening today to give voters the option of casting their ballots ahead of time.

In an interview with local TV affiliates in Gainesville, Mr. Edwards said Republicans were trying to keep “people participating to a minimum.”

He said, “The truth is, the more people that vote, the more likely John Kerry will be president, and the Republicans know that.”

President Bush’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said that Republicans were not trying to suppress turnout and that his state had made changes to make voting easier.

“We have done everything we can to make sure that people have access to register to vote, and we’ve made it easy for people to vote. Starting [today], people will have the chance to vote early,” Mr. Bush said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Earlier in Daytona Beach, Mr. Edwards spoke from the pulpit to a predominantly black congregation at the half-full Greater Friendship Baptist Church.

“We have to rise up and make sure that our voices are heard, and that begins tomorrow,” the candidate said yesterday.

Later yesterday, the North Carolina senator headed to Florida A&M University, the state’s historically black public university, in Tallahassee to make the same pitch.

Democrats are looking to stave off erosion of support among a core party constituency and to energize their base voters.

Mr. Bush’s campaign and conservative groups have been running radio ads aimed at blacks in Florida and other states for weeks. Democrats contend that the ads are meant to keep black voters away from voting booths, a charge Republicans deny.

Speaking to the Daytona Beach congregation, Mr. Edwards tweaked his stump speech, adding references to Martin Luther King, affirmative action, the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, and Presidents Clinton and Lincoln, who are heroes among blacks.

“Dr. King used to say the arc of the moral universe is long but bends toward justice. The problem is there are a lot of forces fighting against justice today,” Mr. Edwards said before promising that Mr. Kerry would continue a “march toward justice.”

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