J. Scott Applewhite  /  AP
President Bush addresses the Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration, which promotes opportunities for blacks in jobs, health care and education, in Indianapolis on Thursday. The White House says a scheduling problem prevented the president from attending the nearby NAACP convention.
updated 7/14/2005 8:05:08 PM ET 2005-07-15T00:05:08

President Bush tried to woo black voters in a supportive Indiana crowd Thursday while for the fifth time skipping the NAACP annual convention.

Bush hasn’t spoken to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s convention since 2000, when he first ran for president and the NAACP National Voter Fund ran an ad that portrayed him as unsympathetic to the dragging death of a black man in Texas.

Instead he has reached out to minority audiences less critical of his policies. This year, he accepted an invitation to speak to the Indiana Black Expo, which presented him with a lifetime achievement award for his efforts to help former prisoners become productive members of society and other programs benefiting minorities. The NAACP convention was under way 250 miles away in Wisconsin.

Bush brought a message of opportunity for all Americans, including blacks, to own homes and businesses and to share in the country’s prosperity. He took credit for narrowing the gap in test scores between black and white elementary school students, according to test results released Thursday by the Education Department.

“I see an America where every citizen owns a stake in the future of our country and where a growing economy creates jobs and opportunity for everyone,” the president said, his voice echoing in the cavernous RCA Dome, where more than 3,000 people packed luncheon tables on the floor below empty stands.

2006 invitation a year early
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush had already accepted the invitation to speak in Indianapolis when the NAACP asked him to speak at its convention in Milwaukee. McClellan said it’s too soon to say if Bush will attend the convention next year in Washington — an invitation that NAACP Chairman Julian Bond announced Sunday, a year in advance.

The NAACP selected a new president, retired Verizon executive Bruce S. Gordon, who has pledged to build relationships with the White House. McClellan said he was certain that Bush would find time to sit down for a talk with Gordon.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman did attend the NAACP convention, becoming the first head of the GOP to do so since 2000. He expressed regrets for Republican attitudes toward blacks in the past.

GOP official admits failure to ‘reach out’
“By the ’70s and into the ’80s and ’90s, the Democrat Party solidified its support in the African-American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out,” Mehlman said. “Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I come here as Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”

McClellan said Bush agreed with Mehlman, even though the president didn’t express any regrets during his speech in Indiana but stuck to touting his record.

Republicans made a similar pitch for black votes in last year’s campaign, but Bush received just 11 percent of the black vote.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, also speaking at the NAACP convention, told members that racial polarization still goes on. He said Mehlman’s words ring hollow because Bush’s policies have left blacks behind

“The Southern strategy lives today,” Dean said, referring to the Republican strategy of the 1960s and 1970s when the GOP wooed white voters in the former Confederacy.

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