In contrast to the warm words he had for Barack Obama before the NAACP last month, John McCain's speech to the National Urban League conference today opened with a dig at his Democratic rival:
You'll hear from my opponent, Senator Obama, tomorrow, and if there's one thing he always delivers it's a great speech. But I hope you'll listen carefully, because his ideas are not always as impressive as his rhetoric.
After that attention-grabbing start, McCain took up his topic of choice with predominantly African-American crowds: education and economic opportunity. He gave the same speech (almost word for word) that he gave before the NAACP. And I spoke to a few members of the audience who noticed.
The response to the speech was tepid, but the crowd lit up during the Q&A. Questions focused on crime, affirmative action and McCain's views on oil drilling. The "race card" debate of the past 24 hours did not come up.
There were two especially interesting exchanges:
Someone asked him why he voted against a federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. in 1983. McCain's answer — "because I was wrong" — got the biggest applause of the day.
And Urban Leage President Marc Morial asked McCain whether as President he would encourage the Justice Department to go after civil rights violations (in cases of police brutality, etc). McCain's response swiped at a recent Bush Administration scandal: "not only that, Marc, I will commit to you that that US Attorneys will be appointed strictly on the basis of qualifications and not political connections."
Also of note, McCain gave a shout-out to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, praising him for signing a school choice (voucher) law in that state. Jindal, an Indian-American, has been a prominent contender in the veepstakes rumor mill.