Chicago Vice President Al Gore told minority leaders Wednesday that "talk is cheap" and asked them to look askance at George W. Bush's efforts to win them away from the Democratic Party.
Gore's theme, in an appearance before the board of Chicago-based Operation PUSH, was that "actions speak louder than words." He said minorities should carefully examine Bush's record before submitting to his "compassionate conservative" pitch.
"It is a choice between the old guard and a new vision for America's future," Gore said of this election.
As Republicans prepare to open their national convention Monday, Gore said that Bush will stage a "feel-good, photo-op convention" that will mask GOP opposition on bedrock issues such as increasing the minimum wage, bolstering schools and expanding health care to the working poor. He also argued that Bush's soothing rhetoric on issues like race relations masks a hostile record to minorities and the poor.
Gore is counting on help from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of Operation Push and a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in previous campaigns.
Gore's effort to shore up backing among minority group leaders who are traditionally friendly to Democrats is an important dynamic in this year's election. Bush has sought to appeal to those groups and is likely to make that effort a theme of his nominating convention.
Still, a new poll finds Gore with solid support among black and Hispanic voters. The ABC News-Washington Post survey released Tuesday said the vice president is backed by eight of 10 blacks and six of 10 Hispanics.
Mindful of Bush's efforts, Gore is working to solidify support among these groups.
"You know from hard history and long struggle that talk is cheap, deeds are what counts," Gore said in a speech to about 200 activists. "The true test is whether you are willing to stand up and fight for real jobs and real opportunities for all our people."
Some analysts suggest Gore's focus on nailing down the backing of traditional Democratic groups like minorities and labor is a sign of weakness because they should already be in his camp. But the vice president has been taking no chances in recent days, sounding sharply partisan themes designed to solidify his base.
Gore returned to one of his campaign's core themes that Bush's record as Texas governor has favored the wealthy and privileged at the expense of workers and the poor.
He has argued in recent days that budget problems in Texas were caused by big tax cuts and have led to budget shortfalls and spending cuts on programs mainly aiding the poor.
And when Bush picked former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as his running mate, Gore could note that both members of the GOP ticket have ties to the oil industry.
Paraphrasing the refrain of an old union organizing song, Gore asked the minority leaders to examine Bush's record and decide "which side is he on?"
Jackson also spoke at the gathering, which was billed as "building the gap, moving from margin to mainstream." Jackson and his group are important in Midwestern battleground states such as Illinois.
While they certainly won't end up with Bush, the extent that they work hard for Gore could influence the outcome.