Baltimore Republican George W. Bush could make inroads among black and traditionally Democratic voters with his appearance at the NAACP's national convention, which GOP hopeful Bob Dole snubbed in 1996, the group's president said Saturday.
Speeches this coming week by Bush and Vice President Al Gore will give both presidential candidates the chance "to define themselves more clearly for African-Americans," Kweisi Mfume said at a news conference opening the organization's 91st national convention.
Four years ago, Dole refused an invitation to speak to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, saying Mfume was "trying to set me up" and that he would look for friendlier audiences that "I can relate to."
Dole later said that his failure to address the NAACP was a missed opportunity and he pledged an all-out fight for "the hearts and votes" of black Americans.
Four years earlier, then-President George Bush declined an invitation to speak at the convention.
Mfume said George W. Bush, the Texas governor, "obviously doesn't think this is a setup. He will talk to this assembly. We want to hear what compassionate conservatism really is. We are interested in compassionate commitment."
He added, "I hope Vice President Gore also speaks to us in very clear terms on how his leadership would impact America."
Bush is scheduled to speak on Monday; Gore will address the convention on Wednesday.
The NAACP's national board chairman, Julian Bond, said that while the group does not endorse candidates because of its tax-exempt status, the candidates should draw plenty attention from around the country with their speeches "as they try to sell themselves to more and more people."
Mfume said that for too long, black Americans have been caught between the policies of Republicans, who eschew minority issues, and of Democrats, who take the black vote for granted.
"That type of folly must end," Mfume said.
On the Net: NAACP site: www.naacp.org/balt2000/balt2000.html