Gore Courts Black Support

Saturday, September 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Al Gore was spending much of the weekend pitching his message to blacks, a group of potential voters who already overwhelmingly back him for the presidency.

Gore was speaking to a Saturday night dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus to encourage a drive for voter turnout, a key to his success in November.

The vice president briefly shifted gears from his wooing of the black vote Saturday morning to talk to about 150 high school students who were in Washington attending the National Student Leadership Forum. Gore touched on the topics of faith in politics and avoiding cynicism.

Gore, supporting running mate Sen. Joe Lieberman's frequent references to religion as a campaign theme, said: ``I really support what Joe Lieberman is saying. I think he's right. I do not believe the separation of church and state requires individuals in public service to refrain from expressions of personal faith or to run away from any expressions of faith.''

And he encouraged the student to ``not allow yourself to give in to the temptation to cynicism.''

On Friday night, Gore spoke to an overflow crowd of black appointees of the Clinton administration. ``In a lot of previous administrations, they wouldn't have needed a room this big to hold an event like this, you know what I'm saying?'' Gore said.

The audience erupted into cheers of ``Go Al! Go Al!'' as the vice president recited a list of Clinton minority appointees and ended it by saying ''53 judges and not a Clarence Thomas among them.''

``When I hear the other side say affirmative action is unnecessary — please give me a break,'' Gore said. ``We need affirmative action for the good of the entire nation.''

He also promised to work for hate crimes legislation and increased federal efforts to end racial profiling by law enforcement.

Earlier Friday, Gore spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of students at Washington's historically black Howard University.

``There is still a lower and lower participation in our democracy. Why is that?'' Gore asked, addressing some 1,600 students. ``Disillusionment. ... Cynicism, disaffection, civic lethargy are the enemies of progress.''

Cotilya Brown, a Howard freshman who turns 18 on Sunday, has already registered to vote, and plans to cast her first ballot ever for the vice president. ``Not even an earthquake could keep me away'' from the voting booth, she said.

With solid black support, the presidential nominee's focus is boosting turnout among a group that has not gone to the polls as often as whites. About half the black population has voted in recent elections, or 5 percent to 10 percent less than whites, according to the Census Bureau.

Gore was spending Friday and Saturday at a trio of events to court blacks and motivate turnout: the Howard University rally, the dinner honoring the Clinton administration's black appointees, and the Saturday speech at a Congressional Black Caucus dinner.

Some Howard audience members expressed skepticism of Gore's motives at the event, where he also promised to improve schools and make higher education more accessible, if elected.

``It's definitely a political strategy to come to a black university with a young minority vote,'' said Saleemah Speller, a junior from New York. Speller said she would still vote for Gore.

Political analysts say that Gore, in a tight race against Republican nominee George W. Bush, will have to work to get out the vote, tapping the Democratic base in the unions and churches.

``He's got to work it and work it hard, not just on special occasions,'' said Roger Wilkins, who teaches presidential politics at George Mason University in suburban Virginia. Black voters do ``not get tuned in and turned up until October. Those are the people you have to motivate.''

David Bositis, senior policy analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, said, Gore ``can count on getting 90 percent of the black vote, but in the key states he has to make sure the black turnout is good.''

Such states include New Jersey, Missouri, Florida and Georgia.

In July, Gore's support from blacks dipped to 64 percent, according to a Pew Research Center poll. By September, that leapt to 80 percent — nearing the 84 percent President Clinton got when he was re-elected in 1996.

Bush gets about 7 percent black support in the Pew polls. At the NAACP annual conference in July, the Texas governor got a tepid welcome, though he promised to work to improve relations between the Republican Party and blacks.