Texas Gov. George W. Bush addressed the 91st annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) where he pledged to make “strong civil rights enforcement a cornerstone of my administration.”
“Our nation is harmed when we let our differences separate us and divide us,” said the Republican presidential candidate. “There is so much that we can do together to advance racial harmony and economic opportunity.”
Bush stressed his theme of expanding upward economic mobility, but did not unveil any new policy initiatives in his remarks to the group today.
“Our nation must make new a commitment to equality and upward mobility for all its citizens,” he said. “ We cannot afford to have an America segregated by class, by race or by aspiration.”
A Different Kind of Republican?
Bush’s speech to the gathering in Baltimore, Md., this afternoon was the latest in a string of campaign appearances before minority organizations — groups that are not considered ‘traditional’ audiences for GOP politicians.
The governor recently addressed the Congress for Racial Equality in New York, the League of United Latin American Citizens national convention in Washington, D.C., and the La Raza conference in San Diego.
“Discrimination is still a reality even when it takes different forms,” Bush asserted. “Strong civil rights enforcement will be a cornerstone of my administration. And I will confront another form of bias: the soft bigotry of lowered expectations.”
Vice President Al Gore, Bush’s Democratic rival, had separate appearances before the same Latino groups, and is scheduled to address the NAACP gathering on Wednesday. But, given that most minorities tend to vote Democratic, it is Bush who has the most to gain by reaching out to them.
“Republicans can make inroads,” said Kweisi Mfume, the group’s president, said on ABCNEWS’ This Week. “But they have to mean it. They can’t just say it.”
“You can pretty much tell when somebody is connecting with you,” he added. “And you can pretty much tell when somebody is sort of giving you the line.”
Bush called for new cooperation between the GOP and groups like the NAACP in his remarks this afternoon.
“I recognize the history of the Republican Party and the NAACP has not been one of regular partnership,” Bush conceded. “While some in our party have avoided the NAACP and while some in the NAACP have avoided my party, I am proud to be here.”
Since the start of his presidential campaign, Bush, who describes himself as “a different kind of Republican,” has tried to bring a more inclusive image to the GOP.
“Reaching out to Hispanics, African Americans and other minority groups, and making real inroads in those communities is, and has always been, important to George Bush,” said Bush campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan. “He recognizes that groups like the NAACP haven’t always had the greatest relationships with Republicans.”
The 1996 GOP nominee, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, drew criticism for pulling out of a scheduled appearance at the NAACP’s annual meeting. Dole said he cancelled because he was afraid the group’s leadership was trying to “set me up” for a hostile reception, and added that he preferred to speak to audiences that he “could relate to.”