WASHINGTON – Black lawmakers from key battleground states told John Kerry's (search) top aides Thursday that he must follow Bill Clinton's (search) lead and give blacks a reason to vote for him rather than just against President Bush.
Participants in the 90-minute strategy session said it was designed to hammer out some specifics stemming from the Democratic presidential candidate's commitment two months ago to regularly seek advice from the Congressional Black Caucus (search).
Campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill (search) and chief communications strategist Bob Shrum agreed to visit with them weekly, at least by phone, and Kerry himself expects to participate about every two weeks. The campaign also announced the hiring of Broderick Johnson, a former vice president of congressional relations for AT&T Corp., who will become Kerry's congressional liaison.
Besides the commitment to regular meetings, the campaign agreed to major newspaper, radio and television ad buys targeting blacks in a handful of toss-up states, including Ohio, Michigan, Louisiana and Missouri.
"Basically what we were saying is you've got to get a message out so African-American people will feel you and feel that you're comfortable with them," said CBC Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md. "As the momentum is shifting, it's not enough that it's just away from Bush. We've got to make sure at the same time we're picking up momentum and people are saying, 'I want Kerry.'"
Rep. Gregory Meeks called the meeting attended by 14 black lawmakers — most from battleground states. Although Meeks said most key issues are of interest to both blacks and swing voters, it was important to target black communities in ad campaigns to help mobilize the Democratic vote.
"You can't win Michigan without winning Detroit," said Meeks, D-N.Y.
Marcus Jadotte, Kerry's deputy campaign manager, said the campaign and black caucus were on the same page.
"We understand very clearly that in order to compete successfully we're going to have to motivate and energize the Democratic base and mobilize that base on Election Day," Jadotte said. "We all know African-Americans are a huge share of the Democratic base."
Although Cummings has predicted a record black turnout for Kerry in November, some black lawmakers have expressed disappointment with aspects of his campaign, including a shortage of blacks in key campaign leadership roles.