Six of the Democratic Party's nine candidates for next year's presidential nomination spoke to the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, Monday in Miami Beach. Instead of their usual criticism of each other, the candidates spent most of their time criticizing their all-but certain opponent next year; George Bush.
Domestic politics took center stage at the 94th annual convention of the nation's oldest civil rights organization. Meeting in Miami for the first time in more than two decades, NAACP delegates took delight in hearing tough criticism of President George W. Bush on issues ranging from education and health care, to the appointment of federal judges.
Senator John Edwards, of the U.S. State of North Carolina told a receptive audience that the Democratic Party takes their concerns to heart. "We have work to do," he said. "The civil rights movement is not done in America. And the starting place is to tell the truth about the inequality that still exists in this country. And the truth is something this administration has trouble with don't they?"
While they were warmly received by the NAACP delegates, NAACP leaders had tough words for several of the six candidates leading up to Monday's "candidates forum." Originally only four of the nine candidates, former Illinois U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, civil rights activist, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Florida Senator Bob Graham had agreed to attend the convention.
After being warned they should not take the African American vote for granted, two others, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry showed up at the last minute.
Staying away were Connecticut Senator, Joseph Lieberman, Missouri Representative Richard Gephardt and Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich.
Also not in attendance was President George Bush who has not attended an NAACP convention since becoming President, a point noted by civil rights activist Al Sharpton.
"George Bush should be here,"said Mr. Sharpton. "Not only should every one of the candidates be here on the Democratic side, but how does George Bush go to Africa and meet with African leaders and come home and not meet with African-American leaders right in his home country?"
African Americans are an important constituency for the Democratic Party. In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore won more than 90-percent of the black vote to George Bush's nine percent. Former President Bill Clinton received more than 80 percent of the black vote in his two campaigns for president.
Former Vermont Governor, Howard Dean, who many experts say is the current Democratic front-runner, told the NAACP delegates white candidates like himself should do more than just court the black vote. He says they should also explain to the majority white population the importance of fighting racism.
"It is up to people like me not just to come before the NAACP and talk about racism. It is up to people like me to talk to white people all around America about racism, because that is the way it has to happen. We cannot just do this when we come and talk to African American audiences," said Mr. Dean. "We have to come and talk to everybody about it. Because it is going to take a white leader to stand up and explain to my people why racism is wrong and why it happens in this society and we can do better than what we are doing."
While domestic issues dominated the agenda at the "candidates forum" the issue of U.S. policy towards Iraq was also addressed. Several of the Democratic candidates voted to support the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq.
However instead of criticizing each other on Iraq as they have done in the past, the candidates in Miami all agreed that the Bush administration should do more to broaden the coalition in Iraq, to, in their words, help win the peace now that the war has been won.