Image: Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson
Gerald Herbert  /  AP
The Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson talk to each other while presidential candidate John Kerry speaks at the National Black Clergy Summit in Philadelphia on Oct. 4.
updated 10/5/2004 3:13:04 PM ET 2004-10-05T19:13:04

Meeting with black religious leaders and traveling with civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry reached out this week to black voters as the campaign entered its final month.

African Americans have historically supported the Democratic party. Kerry has solid support among black voters, though not quite as much as Democrat Al Gore in 2000, when 90 percent of blacks voted for him, according to exit polls. An AP-Ipsos poll taken in mid-September found that 80 percent of black registered voters supported Kerry, while 7 percent supported Bush.

Kerry's contacts focused on Ohio and Pennsylvania, states teetering in a virtual tie between the Democrat and President George W. Bush, where neither campaign takes any votes for granted.

In Philadelphia, Kerry held a long, private meeting Monday with religious leaders, mostly from Ohio and Pennsylvania, who asked for inclusion and influence in his administration, which he obliged.

"If you make me president of the United States, I will do my best to even do better than Bill Clinton did to make sure the government of the United States looks like the face of America," Kerry said.

He told them that urban economic development would be on the agenda for his first 100 days in office. The religious leaders agreed strongly with his assessment that money spent in Iraq is money not spent at home, participants said.

A pamphlet detailed his promises for civil rights, economic opportunity, education, health care and commitment to Africa.


Kerry also aims to reach black voters through an interview with Black Entertainment Television. Taped in Philadelphia, the half-hour interview is scheduled to air Thursday night and again on Friday, the night of his second debate with Bush.

In Cleveland, local religious and political leaders heard Kerry assail the president for turning the charitable works of religious groups into a political cause and neglecting obvious needs for jobs, health care and education.

He talked about rebuilding the country's foreign alliances as a path to creating the moral authority to tackle AIDS and violence in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Kerry said twice on Sunday that Democrats see evidence of Republican efforts to suppress voting and turnout in battleground states.

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"We're not going to let that happen because the memories of 2000 are too strong. We're not going to allow 1 million African Americans to be disenfranchised," Kerry said to an enthusiastic congregation at East Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

Kerry spends much of his time on the road reaching out to moderate, undecided voters in closely divided states.

Black community and elected leaders have expressed frustrations with feeling excluded from the Bush administration. Even so, Jackson said Kerry can't take the black community's votes for granted.

"You have to earn votes, you have to touch the leaders, and you have lay out issues that inspire them," he said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said a question came up in Monday's private meeting about the feeling that blacks "could be more excited" about Kerry's candidacy.

Cummings said Kerry told the group that the choice is "very easy" when you compare Kerry's plans and promises to Bush's record.

Kerry can do better than being favored because he's not the Republican incumbent as voters get to know him through televised debates, Cummings said.

"I think that day by day the excitement about Kerry is growing," he said. "This is not just the African American community."

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