DETROIT President Bush acknowledged on Friday that "the Republican Party has got a lot of work to do" to gain the support of black voters and suggested that the Democratic Party was taking them for granted.
"I know plenty of politicians assume they have your vote," the president told the National Urban League. "But do they earn it and do they deserve it?"
Bush's remarks came as a new poll showed overwhelming support for John Kerry among black voters. The poll also showed blacks have yet to entirely warm up to the presumptive Democratic nominee.
The president's speech followed his refusal to address the NAACP, whose chairman, Julian Bond, has condemned the administration's policies on education, the economy and the war in Iraq and has urged high black voter turnout to defeat Bush.
Bush pointed to the fact that blacks such as national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell are key members of his administration. To periodic smatterings of applause from the black audience, he asserted that his prescription of tax relief, education reform and compassionate conservatism is doing far more than the traditional programs of Democrats to address the nation's ills that hit particularly hard at blacks.
"Has class warfare or higher taxes ever created decent jobs in the inner city?" Bush asked. "Are you satisfied with the same answers on crime, excuses for drugs and blindness to the problem of the family?"
During his speech, Bush invited blacks to "take a look at my agenda" of boosting small businesses, demanding high standards in the nation's public schools and defending "the institutions of marriage and family."
He proposed an initiative that seeks to expand business ownership among minorities by creating one-stop centers for business training, counseling, financing and contracting.
"Is it a good thing for the African-American community to be represented mainly by one political party?" the president asked. "How is it possible to gain political leverage if the party is never forced to compete?"
Repeating a line that is part of his stump speech to Republican crowds, Bush declared, "I'm here to ask for your vote." The line drew weak applause from the Urban League audience.
"I know, I know, I know," Bush added. "The Republican Party has got a lot of work to do. I understand that," prompting laughter and louder applause and apparently provoking a vigorous nod of the head from the Rev. Jesse Jackson who was sitting in the crowd.
"You didn't need to nod your head that hard, Jesse," Bush said, triggering more laughter.
After the speech, Jackson said that Bush "has done some gestures, but he talked to us, not with us."