updated 7/19/2006 8:14:26 PM ET 2006-07-20T00:14:26

Two Democrats called on President Bush to use his rare appearance before the NAACP’s annual conference to renew the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, arguing that such a step would ensure a basic right for minorities.

Signing the legislation, however, would require Bush to pressure the Republican-controlled Senate to act quickly in passing the renewal that the House approved last week. A Senate committee passed the bill Wednesday, and the president is scheduled to address the NAACP on Thursday after rejecting the civil rights group’s invitations for five straight years.

“He could sign it right here on this stage,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., told the NAACP on Wednesday, eliciting cheers from the audience.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., appearing with Clinton and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts on a voting rights panel, seconded Clinton’s suggestion but warned: “Don’t be bamboozled.”

“You don’t just talk the talk, but you also walk the walk,” Obama said. “Ultimately, laws are only as good as the people who are enforcing them.”

Clinton, perceived as the Democratic front-runner among White House hopefuls, and Obama, a rising star often mentioned in presidential talk, focused on an issue that the party hopes will energize a core Democratic constituency.

GOP seeks black vote
In recent years, Republicans have tried to chip away at Democrats’ long dominance of the black vote; Democrat John Kerry captured nearly 90 percent of the vote in 2004. Democrats have fought back to keep a critical part of their base.

With midterm elections less than four months away, Democrats have criticized the Bush administration, accusing the Justice Department of lax oversight of the Voting Rights Act. Republican divisions over renewal of the act have given the Democrats another issue to highlight.

Some conservative Republicans, mostly from Southern states, objected to federal oversight in their states and said the renewal, as written, unfairly punishes states that have overcome their racist pasts.

The crowd at the NAACP meeting gave Clinton and Obama similar warm receptions. Some attendees stood and applauded, and many cheered when the two senators were introduced. A group gathered before the stage to take pictures of the two and Kennedy.

At one point, a handful of people chanted “Run, Hillary, run,” an apparent reference to 2008.

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