Unlike in previous elections, both Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., reached out to black voters at this year's annual NAACP conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. Representatives from both parties weigh the race factor in this year's campaign.
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Unlike in previous elections, both the Democratic and the Republican candidates for president opted this year to make an appeal to the NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization. Today, it was John McCain's turn.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: I am a candidate for president who seeks your vote and hopes to earn it. But whether or not I win your support, I need your goodwill and your counsel.
And should I succeed, I'll need it all the more.
Obama spoke at the organization's annual meeting in Cincinnati earlier this week.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: I know there are some who have been saying I've been too tough talking about responsibility. NAACP, I'm here to report I'm not going to stop talking about it.
The two men chose different approaches to address one of the biggest distinctions in this campaign, that one of the likely nominees is, for the first time, African-American.
Instead of speaking specifically about race, McCain focused on issues that have a disproportionate effect on black voters, like education.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
Over the years, Americans have heard a lot of tired rhetoric about education. We've heard it in the endless excuses of people who seem more concerned about their own position than about our children.
We've heard it from politicians who accept the status quo rather than stand up for real change in our public schools.
Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent, and diplomas that open the doors of opportunity. When a public system fails repeatedly to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in their education of their children.
Some parents may choose a better public school; some may choose a private school; many will choose a charter school. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.
Obama emphasized the issue of personal responsibility, as he has before black church groups.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA:
No matter how much money we invest in our communities, how many 10-point plans we propose, how many government programs we launch, none of it will make a difference, at least not enough of a difference, if we also at the same time don't seize more responsibility in our own lives.
We can lead by example, as we did during the civil rights movement, because the problems that plague our communities, they're not unique to us. We just have it a little worse, but they're not unique to us.
They're providing guidance for children, turning off the TV set, putting away the video games, attending those parent-teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework, setting a good example. That's what everybody has got to do if we're going to be moving this country forward.
Both men were received warmly, but a new poll out today shows the nation's racial divide is still wide. Nearly 60 percent of African-Americans surveyed said they consider race relations in the country to be "generally bad." Only 34 percent of whites agree.
On the flip side of the same question, 55 percent of whites said race relations are "generally good," a view shared by only 29 percent of blacks.
But on one point, there is near agreement: 70 percent of whites and 65 percent of blacks said America is ready for a black president.