- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

DETROIT — Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama outshone his Democratic rivals yesterday, drawing the loudest cheers at an NAACP forum as he assailed the Bush administration’s record on race relations.

The eight Democrats shared the stage at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s 98th annual convention. Former Sen. John Edwards called on his “brothers and sisters” as he evoked the struggles of the civil rights movement. Front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton thanked the organist for soulful musical interludes.

But it was Mr. Obama, seeking to become the first black president, who drew the strongest applause and cheers from the 3,000 attendees.

“I know what you know, which is that despite all the progress that has been made we still have more work to do,” said the first-term Illinois senator.

Black voters are a core constituency for Democrats, and the candidates are in a fierce struggle to capture their support, refusing to cede it to Mr. Obama. Mrs. Clinton is counting on the goodwill engendered by her husband during his presidency, while Mr. Edwards has won praise for his anti-poverty efforts.

At the forum, each candidate responded to five questions from NAACP delegates on topics including health care, gun violence and voting rights.

Mr. Obama derided President Bush’s commutation of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr.’s prison term, comparing it to a 10-year prison sentence of a Georgia teenager.

“We know we have more work to do when Scooter Libby gets no prison time and a 21-year-old honor student, who hadn’t even committed a felony, gets 10 years in prison,” Mr. Obama said.

Aides said Mr. Obama was referring to Genarlow Wilson, a Georgia man serving a 10-year prison sentence for having oral sex with a 15-year-old during a group-sex party in 2004 when Wilson was 17.

Mr. Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of lying to investigators and obstruction of justice in the CIA-leak case. He received a 30-month prison sentence, which Mr. Bush commuted last week.

“I’d like to thank the NAACP for letting me follow Barack Obama,” joked Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who delivered his opening remarks after the Illinois senator.

Mr. Obama, 45, said he was too young to have participated in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but said he was inspired by it. That comment prompted a mild dig from Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who stressed his long career in public life.

“I’ve been around a while, and I’m old enough to remember the civil rights movement,” Mr. Biden, 64, said, adding he was the best candidate to bring an end to the Iraq war.

Mrs. Clinton said the forum would cover more issues of importance to the black community than the administration had in six years.

“I think we needed to have a little uplift here,” she said. “If we’re going to win this election, it’s going to be because we have faith.”

Mr. Edwards’ call for felons’ voting rights to be restored also received loud cheers, although as a North Carolina senator in 2002 he voted against a bill allowing felons the right to vote in federal elections.

The topic of voting rights drew an impassioned response from the candidates. “The American people don’t feel that when they go vote their vote counts,” New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said.

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