Vice President Al Gore delivered a spirited, preacher-like speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People today, accusing his Republican rival, Texas. Gov. George W. Bush, of only paying lip-service to the interests of the black community.
“I am a member of the NAACP … I have come here not just in an election-year, but year after year,” the presidential candidate said, in a thinly veiled slap at Bush, who addressed the group’s convention a day earlier. “I have worked with you, I have stood with you, I am proud to have won some battles alongside you.”
‘Talk is Cheap’
Although he stopped short of mentioning his opponent by name, Gore repeatedly mocked Bush’s call for new cooperation between the NAACP and the Republican Party.
“I just happened to see some of your convention on Monday,” he joked, drawing laughter from his enthusiastic audience. “And I know that you heard some nice-sounding words on Monday afternoon. But I remembered what scripture teaches.”
Gore then quoted a biblical verse, the meaning of which he summed up as, “Talk is cheap. It’s deeds that matter.”
Bush aides bristled at the suggestion that his efforts to cast himself as “a different kind of Republican” are insincere.
“The governor has made great inroads here in Texas with African-American and Hispanic citizens,” insisted campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan, “and is sincere in his desire to do so at the national level.”
According to Gore aides, the vice president decided to step up the level of the anti-Bush rhetoric in his remarks to the NAACP today only after Bush’s speech to the group generated a round of mostly positive publicity. Earlier drafts of Gore’s address, the aides said, were considerably less vitriolic.
Bringing Down the House
The vice president also continued his weeklong assault against what he is calling the “Do-Nothing-for-People” Republican-led Congress.
“This Congress keeps blocking progress,” he insisted, “and trying to pass these massive giveaways to the powerful and the special interests.”
The GOP holds a thin six-seat advantage in the House and Democrats are hopeful that they can reclaim the majority in the November elections.
“I want you to consider how much we can get done by taking back the Congress,” he added, pointing out that two African-American legislators — Michigan Rep. John Conyers and New York Rep. Charles Rangel — would become the chairmen of a pair of influential House committees should Democrats regain control of Congress.
“This week, [Gore] decided to attack the Congress, even though he himself is president of the Senate,” Bush told a gathering of the party faithful in Austin, Texas this afternoon. “He offers more of the same — the same old sequel to a tired period of time. Four more years of a president at war with Congress.”
For his part, Gore told the NAACP that Bush proposals on Social Security and tax cuts would benefit the rich more than the poor and middle class. And he stressed differences between Democrats and Republicans on gun-control, a “patients’ bill of rights” and funding for education.
“Why in the world won’t the Congress pass the legislation with bipartisan support … to give local communities help in modernizing [educational] facilities?” Gore asked rhetorically. “They get an ‘F’ for effort on education as far as I’m concerned.”
The Bush campaign blamed the White House for failing to improve schools in poorer neighborhoods and cited increases in the numbers of economically disadvantaged and African-American students passing state skills tests in Texas since Bush took office in 1995.
“Al Gore should explain why his administration broke its promise to close the achievement gap,” said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. “[S]tudents in our nation’s poorest schools are still not learning such basic skills as reading and math.”
Vice Presidential Populism
With Bush making inroads with such traditionally Democratic groups as female and Hispanic voters, Gore has moved aggressively to shore up his support among the party’s liberal base. That effort was on full display today as the vice president continued to sound an increasingly populist tone.
“I am running for president because I want to fight for you,” he bellowed. “I want to serve the people, not the powerful. I want to take on the special interests on behalf of working families!”
African-Americans are historically among the most loyal Democratic supporters: In 1996, an overwhelming 84 percent of black voters cast their ballots for President Clinton. Comprising 10 percent of the electorate, their support will be crucial to Gore’s chances for victory.
The NAACP and the vice president do have differences on a handful of issues, such as the death penalty — Gore is a longtime supporter of the death penalty, but the NAACP is advocating a moratorium, amid accusations of racial discrimination in how it is implemented.
But the Democratic candidate was warmly received by the group, which repeatedly interrupted Gore with applause throughout his speech. Recent public opinion polls show that roughly eight in 10 blacks back Gore.
Gore’s speech to the group followed appearances by Bush on Monday and Tuesday’s speeches by Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader and Mrs. Clinton, who is running for the Senate in New York.
ABCNEWS’ Dana Hill and John Berman contributed to this report.