- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Sen. John Kerry is losing the interest of black voters after spending several weeks defending his Vietnam service records and responding to attacks from fellow swift boat sailors, but black lawmakers said the Democratic challenger needs to get back to his domestic-policy ideas in order to boost black voter turnout on Nov. 2.

“He cannot let himself get sidetracked and taken off focus by Swift Boat ads. He must stick to the issues affecting African-Americans,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). By and large, he said, “We don’t care about swift boats.”

Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat, said there is a concern that turnout could be low in this election if black voters are not motivated by the candidates’ platform.

“We’re always concerned about turnout, and it’s not necessarily related to Kerry; we are always looking to get more folks involved in the process,” Mr. Watt said.

Mr. Watt, like several members of the caucus, endorsed Sen. John Edwards during the primary season. He said Mr. Edwards’ selection as the vice-presidential candidate “strengthened” his support for the Democratic ticket.

The CBC held its 34th annual legislative conference last week, hosting hundreds of black state representatives, city council members and mayors from across the country. Most shared Mr. Watt’s position on Mr. Kerry, saying he has “100 percent” of their support, but not necessarily their enthusiasm.

“And we know Kerry cannot win without the black vote,” Mr. Cummings added.

Bill Clinton received 82 percent of the black vote in 1992 and 84 percent in his 1996 re-election campaign, and Al Gore received 90 percent in 2000.

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, California Democrat, said the rhetoric on Vietnam records “absolutely” has received too much attention.

“We should not any further talk about 35 years ago when the [1965] Voting Rights Act will be revisited next year, [and] we have the possibility of four Supreme Court justices looking to retire. Those are critical issues,” Mrs. Millender-McDonald said.

She said Mr. Kerry must continue to speak from his heart and soul and tout his urban plan at every turn in the campaign, while continuing to target black rural voters in the South. She also said Mr. Kerry must do more to advertise his urban plan to improve the infrastructure, schools, job market and environment in America’s cities.

“I know this man. I have worked with him a long time, and he is a good man for the presidency, and not just for African-Americans, but for all Americans,” she said.

Mr. Cummings said he is hopeful that Mr. Kerry also will include voter intimidation as a part of his stump speech, referring to news stories out of Florida that state troopers are entering the homes of and questioning elderly black voters in what state officials called an investigation into a “suspicious” voter-registration drive.

“In Florida and across the country,” Mr. Cummings said, “our Republican friends have already said they are going to be challenging every vote even provisional votes, and it would be in Kerry’s best interest to sound the alarm.”

Provisional votes primarily are cast by voters in the wrong precinct or whose names for whatever reasons are not on a precincts’ registration rolls, he said.

Mr. Kerry in a speech before the CBC on Saturday touted his record working with leaders in the black community on education, health care and social programs.

“On issue after issue, the other side has been trying to muddy the waters to keep us from seeing the real differences and the real choices in this election,” the senator said.

“But on every issue, from Iraq to Social Security, from fiscal discipline to education, from voting rights to affirmative action, we know the truth. And John Edwards and I are going to fight every day to show the difference between their tired, old, negative politics of the past and a new direction for America.”

Mr. Kerry said he would reopen the White House doors to the CBC and organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which he says have been shunned by the Bush administration.

However, in the minds of some black politicians, such as the outspoken Rep. Artur Davis, Alabama Democrat, the issue most pressing for black people is the economy and how much black voters dislike President Bush’s tax and economic policies.

“Black voters don’t have the luxury of voting against our economic interests,” Mr. Davis said. “They may disagree with [Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards] on certain social issues, but they will vote for them because of issues like Social Security, job creation, and Medicare.”

Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, said there is no question that Mr. Bush is trying to “eliminate” Social Security by 2017 and that he will dismantle government-funded social services if given another four years.

“This is a race between a fiscally irresponsible administration with no interest in Social Security, the worst economic record and job record since Herbert Hoover, if not in history, against Kerry,” Mr. Scott said. “Three hundred billion in interest added to the national debt in four years? How bad does it have to be before you see something is wrong? It should be easy to campaign for Kerry against Bush.”

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