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Bush, Kerry Even in Most Opinion Polls as Democratic National Convention Nears - 2004-07-23

President Bush and presumed Democratic challenger John Kerry are both on the campaign trail. Public opinion polls show the two men running about even, ahead of next week's Democratic convention, where Senator Kerry will officially become the opposition party's nominee.

President Bush went looking for African-American votes Friday, with a speech before the National Urban League in the Midwest city of Detroit.

Mr. Bush won less than 10 percent of that vote in 2000, and angered many African-American leaders this month by refusing to attend a meeting of the nation's oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP.

Administration officials say the president refused that invitation because the group is highly partisan. Instead, the White House chose the Urban League, which is a more multi-ethnic group with stronger corporate ties.

Mr. Bush tailored his standard campaign speech to focus on social issues, including programs to help people readjust to life after prison, and efforts to channel federal aid money through religious-based charities.

The president noted several members of his Cabinet belong to ethnic minorities, and asked African-American voters to question whether Democrats are taking their support for granted.

"I know plenty of politicians assume they have your vote," said president Bush. "But did they earn it, and do they deserve it? Is it a good thing for the African-American community to be represented mainly by one political party? That's a legitimate question. How is it possible to gain political leverage, if the party is never forced to compete?"

Mr. Bush says he has a solid record of accomplishment, and asked Urban League members for their vote in November.

Senator Kerry spoke to the same group Thursday. He recalled the president's refusal to address the NAACP, and suggested the president's address to the Urban League is not a substitute for steady attention to the issues of concern to African-Americans and other minorities.

"And I am running for president because I believe that what matters most is not the narrow values that politicians play [on] and use to divide, but the shared values that unite all of us in this country and bring us together as a nation," said Senator Kerry.

The economy is a particularly important issue among African-American voters, with more than 10 percent of that community unemployed. That is twice the rate of white Americans.

The latest public opinion poll by the Los Angeles Times newspaper shows Senator Kerry leading the president on economic issues. Mr. Bush is ahead on questions of fighting terrorism and being more likely to develop a plan for achieving success in Iraq.

But on the biggest question of who should be the next president, the poll finds what almost all polls over the last few months have found, that the nation remains almost equally divided, with the election's outcome likely to rest on a small number of currently undecided voters.