Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry emphasized his differences with President Bush over civil rights and health care Thursday. The latest public opinion polls hold some disappointment for the Kerry campaign but his supporters say they are standing by the candidate.
Senator Kerry criticized the Bush administration's civil rights record in a speech to the National Baptist Convention in New Orleans, one of the nation's largest African-American religious groups. "The president who turns away from African-American needs, who scorns economic justice and affirmative action, who traffics in the politics of division and then claims he is a friend of Black America can not conceal his identity no matter what clothes he wears," he said.
At a campaign rally earlier in the day in Des Moines, Iowa, Senator Kerry focused on health care, which opinion polls indicate is a top issue in this year's election. Senator Kerry promised that if elected, he would expand health care coverage for millions of Americans. "President Bush for four years has had an opportunity to try to deal with this and he has no plan at all for America to lower the health care costs and bring the people in," he said. "In fact, he has been busy losing people's coverage."
Mr. Kerry is pressing on despite some public opinion polls that suggest President Bush has made significant gains in recent weeks in three important so-called battleground states, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
But two Kerry supporters who heard him speak in Des Moines Thursday say they are not deterred by the polls.
"I was very impressed. I thought he seemed so very human. I liked that," said one woman.
"And he is so articulate," said another. "He knows what he wants to do and how he wants to go about it and I thought that was great."
Another Kerry supporter, Barbara Dial, said she is worried by his recent dip in the polls. "Am I concerned? Somewhat concerned because I don't want Bush again, no way," she said.
Chuck Grimes also attended the Kerry rally in Iowa. He said most Kerry supporters believe the race will tighten in the final weeks. "I don't think we can even tell what is happening yet. I think the last 30 days will do it," he said.
Senator Kerry will look to make up ground in two of those key battleground states Friday when he holds rallies in Missouri and Pennsylvania.