Kerry Reaches Out to Black Voters

Meeting with black religious leaders and traveling with Jesse Jackson (search), Sen. John Kerry (search) reached out this week to black voters as his presidential campaign entered its final month.

Kerry's contacts focused on Ohio and Pennsylvania, states teetering in a virtual tie between the Democrat and President Bush, where neither campaign takes any votes for granted.

In Philadelphia, Kerry held a long, private meeting Monday with religious leaders, mostly from Ohio and Pennsylvania, who asked for inclusion and influence in his administration, which he obliged.leaders agreed strongly with his assessment that money spent in Iraq is money not spent at home, participants said.

A pamphlet detailed his promises for civil rights, economic opportunity, education, health care and commitment to Africa.

Kerry also aims to reach black voters through an interview with Black Entertainment Television (search). Taped in Philadelphia, the half-hour interview is scheduled to air Thursday night and again on Friday, the night of his second debate with Bush.

In Cleveland, local religious and political leaders heard Kerry assail the president for turning the charitable works of religious groups into a political cause and neglecting obvious needs for jobs, health care and education.

He talked about rebuilding the country's foreign alliances as a path to creating the moral authority to tackle AIDS and violence in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Kerry has solid support among black voters, though not quite as much as Democrat Al Gore in 2000.

An AP-Ipsos poll taken in mid-September found that 80 percent of black registered voters supported Kerry, while 7 percent supported Bush. Exit polls showed Gore winning 90 percent of the black vote four years ago.

Kerry said twice on Sunday that Democrats see evidence of Republican efforts to suppress voting and turnout in battleground states.

"We're not going to let that happen because the memories of 2000 are too strong. We're not going to allow 1 million African Americans to be disenfranchised," Kerry said to an enthusiastic congregation at East Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

Kerry spends much of his time on the road reaching out to moderate, undecided voters in closely divided states.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said she expects the Massachusetts senator to spend more time contacting and energizing black voters, doing more events geared around their concerns.

"Ministerial leadership is very key," she said.

Black community and elected leaders have expressed frustrations with feeling excluded from the Bush administration. Even so, Jackson said Kerry can't take the black community's votes for granted.

"You have to earn votes, you have to touch the leaders, and you have lay out issues that inspire them," he said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said a question came up in Monday's private meeting about the feeling that blacks "could be more excited" about Kerry's candidacy.

Cummings said Kerry told the group that the choice is "very easy" when you compare Kerry's plans and promises to Bush's record.

Kerry can do better than being favored because he's not the Republican incumbent as voters get to know him through televised debates, Cummings said.

"I think that day by day the excitement about Kerry is growing," he said. "This is not just the African American community."