Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Court Black Mayors

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Candidates for the Democratic nomination to be president were in Louisiana on Saturday courting party insiders at the National Conference of Black Mayors in Baton Rouge.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

A Newsweek poll out today gives President Bush the lowest approval rating of any president since Jimmy Carter - 28 percent. The poll also indicates the president may be dragging down Republican presidential contenders. When pollsters matched up the leading Democrats against the Republican frontrunners, the Democrats came out on top.

This weekend, the Democratic hopefuls have been courting support from black politicians. They've been in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the National Conference of Black Mayors is holding its annual conference.

NPR's David Greene is there, and joins us. David, is this one of those obligatory stops on the road to the White House for Democrats?

DAVID GREENE: It's certainly an important stop, just, you know, a reality check. The election is so far away. There will be another one of these conferences likely before there's actually a final vote for president. But it's certainly important, and this organization, the National Conference of Black Mayors, likes to offer some math and say that they have more than 640 mayors representing 38 million people.

So if these mayors are going back and making endorsements down the road, and that translates into votes, you can understand, I guess why these candidates want to stop by.

And there have been four of them, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, came through in the last couple of days. And today, we had Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama speaking to this group.

ELLIOTT: David, people have noticed that Senator Obama in some of his speeches has been has been sounding critical of some aspects of African-American culture, particularly hip-hop artists. Did you hear more about today?

GREENE: Some of it, perhaps, not as much as other speeches. But Obama did speak about the importance of strengthening families. The own(ph) is being on fathers to take more responsibility rather than if he put it fathers believing their responsibility ends at conception. Obama also said that the government can't do it all, and that families need to rely on themselves.

You know, his campaign really, carefully managed this event today. They had it moved from downtown Baton Rouge where the conferences are actually being held to Southern University, a historically black college to allow some students to come. And he built the speech around the theme of a pregnant mother during the L.A. riots, who was shot and her baby had the bullet literally buried in the baby's body in the womb. And he kept repeating this theme. We need to work to remove the bullets in American society, whether it be racism, poverty.

He had a teleprompter, whereas other events that Obama has done out in Iowa and elsewhere, has been really casual, just him kind of wandering around with the microphone. So you got the sense he really wanted to give a different kind of speech here to an African-American audience. And he was pretty energized, whereas Hillary Clinton is very, very different.

In a conference room, it felt more like a wonky policy speech, and she brought up a lot of specific policies that her husband supported and suggested that they are being underfunded or have been forgotten now.

ELLIOTT: How did the mayors react? What did they have to say about these two candidates?

GREENE: It really depends on who you ask. Some seemed very inspired by Obama's speech. And they said they felt a connection with him. Others said they liked what they heard from Obama. But that in an event like this, at the conference of mayors, they liked that Hillary Clinton gave some specifics. One mayor said that she got a lot she could take home to her city and say, if Hillary Clinton is president she's going to help my community out.

You know, Debbie, women in particular, African-American women at this conference seem to be doing a lot of soul-searching. And sometimes, it looks painfully so. Some told me they're expected to support Clinton in the beginning, and still might, but that Obama since he's black gives them some feeling of moral imperative to may be consider voting for him.

ELLIOTT: What about the other two hopefuls, Senator Edwards and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson?

GREENE: Well, Richardson kicked things off on Thursday. And he got a polite reception on, and I've worked the room, and he did admit, though, that he's behind in a lot of polls.

And Edwards spoke about ending poverty, and he got a very inspiring introduction from the actor Danny Glover, who was receiving an award here. And that Glover strongly endorsed Edwards and said he wants to follow John Edwards on a journey to changed the country.

ELLIOTT: NPR's David Greene in Baton Rouge. Thanks.

GREENE: Thanks, Debbie.

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