Barack Obama and John McCain vie for African American votes this week with appearances before the NAACP convention in Cincinnati, a stop with potential opportunities and pitfalls for both candidates.
Obama is to speak tonight. On the surface, the venerable civil rights organization's 99th convention should be a love fest between the African American attendees and the first African American with a real chance of being elected president.
But last week's comments by the Rev. Jesse Jackson about Obama “talking down” to African Americans brought to light concerns among some civil rights activists and African American academics about Obama.
Some have taken quiet umbrage at Obama's proposal to expand President Bush's faith-based initiative and his comments about the moral responsibilities of African American fathers, saying his remarks are designed more to woo and soothe white voters than to address issues affecting the African American community.
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“I think the public reception at the NAACP will be very warm, but I think behind closed doors there will be some frank give and take, something short of contentious, but sharp give and take,” said Michael Dawson, a University of Chicago political scientist who specializes in African American politics.
Obama is expected to talk about how the economic crunch is affecting African Americans, said Candice Tolliver, a campaign spokeswoman.
“He'll talk about what some folks feel is the next civil rights frontier – economics,” Tolliver said. “He'll tell how organizations like the NAACP can be partners in helping families through times like this. If you look at the economy, from credit cards to bankruptcy to unemployment, it's African Americans who are disproportionately impacted.”
McCain's appearance at the convention Wednesday fits into his effort to reach out to groups that aren't traditionally courted by GOP presidential candidates. Opportunity and education will be the theme of his remarks, according to McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.
McCain's efforts aren't expected to win over many African American voters, who are mostly Democrats, especially when they can vote for an African American presidential candidate.
“Obama is going to get the highest percentage of the black vote of any presidential candidate in history,” predicted David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank in Washington that studies African American issues.
Still, McCain is likely to get kudos from conventioneers for showing up. President Bush attended only two NAACP conventions – as a candidate in 2000 and as president in 2006.