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Gore Courts Support of Black Lawmakers

Politics: The potential presidential candidate speaks at an annual legislative conference.

September 15, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Al Gore was trying Saturday to strengthen his ties with black lawmakers, a constituency whose support he would need should he decide to run for president in 2004.

Gore received the backing of 9 in 10 black voters in 2000, a rate of support from blacks higher than his former boss, Bill Clinton, won in either of his successful presidential elections.

The former vice president was among speakers scheduled for Saturday night's awards banquet at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual legislative conference.

"Al Gore is still the titular head of the Democratic Party," said Rep. William J. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat who is chairman of the nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation, a public policy and research organization. "He is the best-known and most popular Democrat in the country, second only to former President Clinton."

The conference, which started Wednesday, has focused on a variety of issues, including how to communicate about the United States more effectively with less affluent nations.

"The assault on Sept. 11 showed us we still need to reach out to the people of the world," said Rep. Bobby L. Rush, the Illinois Democrat who heads the conference. The group also dealt with domestic concerns such as the economy, education and public health.

Weldon Rougeau, the foundation president, said it is important that the nation's political debate return from its heavy focus on international concerns such as Iraq and terrorism to include domestic issues crucial to the country.

"We have put on hold many issues which are important to African Americans and other Americans," Rougeau said.

Conference leaders said they were eager to hear what Gore has to say about them.

Rush noted that the continuing election problems in the Florida governor's race make it "very timely that Gore is here." Gore lost the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush after a contentious fight over voting problems in Florida's very close presidential contest.

Gore probably will get strong support from black voters if he runs again, several at the conference said, but they will also take a close look at other potential Democratic candidates.

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