McCain Courts NAACP

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GOP presidential hopeful John McCain has told the NAACP he will expand educational opportunities, partly through vouchers for low-income children to attend private school. His comments came at the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

First this hour: Politics and African-American voters. John McCain appeared today in what could fairly be called Obama territory. The Republican presidential candidate addressed the convention of the NAACP in Cincinnati. Barack Obama spoke there on Monday and polls show an overwhelming majority of African-Americans support the Democratic presidential candidate.

In a moment, we'll hear from a black Republican, but first, McCain's speech. He began by noting progress in race relations since the first decade of the 20th century when the NAACP was founded.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. There's no better evidence of this than the nomination of an African-American to be the presidential nominee of his party.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIEGEL: As for issues, Senator McCain spoke about, among other things, education.

Sen. McCAIN: When we marched with the American Federation of Teachers last weekend, Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as, quote, "tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice." All that went over well with the teachers' union, but where does it lead families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?

SIEGEL: Senator McCain speaking today to the NAACP in Cincinnati. NPR's Audie Cornish is traveling with Senator McCain - was at the speech.

Audie, how would you describe the senator's reception?

AUDIE CORNISH: The senator had a very gracious reception. He did not make the convention last year, and President Bush went five years in between visits. So people here were pretty much appreciative that he decided to come at all, and really wanted to hear him out.

SIEGEL: He seemed to go out of his way to be gracious about Senator Obama in his remarks. He knows, of course, that even a successful campaign for a Republican presidential candidate won't do all that well among black voters.

CORNISH: That's true. But at this point, every vote counts, every little bit counts. Ohio is a battleground state. The black vote - while (unintelligible) in large numbers to Senator Barack Obama, it's not something that Senator McCain can afford to ignore altogether.

SIEGEL: Well, what did you hear from people there who were listening to the Republican - the presumptive Republican nominee speaking?

CORNISH: Well, the speech centered mostly on issues of education and the economy. These are issues that Republicans have made some inroads with the black community on before. But I got to say, you know, compared to Senator Barack Obama's welcome with overflow crowds, upwards of five, six thousand people, this is a lot more a McCain affair, and people were very cautious.

Here is Charles Hampton(ph) of Louisville, Mississippi.

Mr. CHARLES HAMPTON (Resident, Mississippi): I feel that it's just the same old account that we hear all the time. And I look at the record that - what he have done in the past, and there hasn't been anything to benefit the community that I come from. What the poor that we got, people in our community they are crying out for help and we don't have anybody other than the NAACP to come to their defense to try to help them in any way that we possibly can.

CORNISH: And so you can hear the - this, I guess, sort of catch in his voice there about on the one hand, we're very happy that McCain has come; but on the other hand, he feels like he's heard it al before.

Also, I spoke to Sylvia Baker(ph) from St. Louis and she very much disagreed with Senator McCain's policies and yet she was extremely enthusiastic that he has come to the convention at all.

Ms. SULVIA BAKER (Resident, St. Louis): Because we could not get the - our own president here, Bush, we tried, but he didn't think it was important enough for him to come. And I am very glad he came.

SIEGEL: So her answer was, sort of, compared to whom, she's happy about the experience.

CORNISH: There were quite a few people there who said that no matter what, it was important that Senator McCain came and didn't dismiss votes altogether even though they acknowledge the fact that it's a largely, sort of, Obama-fanatic crowd.

SIEGEL: Okay. NPR's Audie Cornish was in Cincinnati earlier today where Senator John McCain addressed the convention of the NAACP.

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