Re-election of president: long way from sure thing

Commentary by Cokie Roberts and Steven Roberts

July 18, 2003

Suddenly, President Bush seems vulnerable, and the explanation can be found in two numbers. The first is 2.5 million, the number of jobs lost since Bush took office. The second is 147, the number of U.S. soldiers lost to hostile fire in Iraq.

The president remains a strong favorite next year, partly because the Democrats have yet to produce a commanding alternative. Like all re-election campaigns, however, 2004 will largely be a referendum on Bush's performance, and if those two numbers continue to climb, the president could be in trouble.

Independent pollster John Zogby points out that in his latest survey, only 48 percent of respondents say Bush deserves re-election.

"He hasn't banked enough political capital," Zogby told us.

Why? Start with a steady stream of bad news on the war front. Americans certainly agree with Bush that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein running Iraq. But at what cost?

The world would be better off without a lot of people, including the mullahs who run Iran and the maniac who rules North Korea, the other two members of Bush's "axis of evil." But the White House won't remove them because the price would be too high in lives, money and reputation. And now voters are starting to wonder whether the price for ousting Saddam was too high.

For the first time, a majority of Americans — 52 percent — indicate in an ABC News/Washington Post poll that the level of casualties in Iraq is "unacceptable." And Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is warning of more flag-draped caskets to come.

Moreover, the administration's credibility gap is growing. It now says the war is costing $4 billion a month, twice the original estimate, at a time when this year's budget deficit is soaring well past $450 billion, the largest in history.

As for troop levels, those predictions were also botched. About 150,000 soldiers are currently in Iraq, and military leaders concede that they won't be coming home any time soon. In fact, force levels might increase to quell continuing Iraqi resistance.

Finally, questions persist about the use and abuse of pre-war intelligence. Administration accounts change daily as officials try to explain Bush's discredited claim that Saddam imported uranium from Africa. And those famous weapons of mass destruction have still not turned up.

Few protestors are marching in the streets, calling for the troops to come home. But as Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, puts it, "nervousness and anxiety" are rising, and the president's numbers are sliding. At the end of April, 75 percent supported Bush's handling of the war, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll; now the number is down to 58 percent. Over that same period, those who told a Pew survey that the war was "going well" have plunged from 61 percent to 23 percent.

The news for Bush is worse on the economic front, where the mood is edging from anxiety to anger. In Zogby's poll, voters disapprove of Bush's economic performance by almost 2 to 1, and the pollster explains the president "has not developed a domestic majority constituency."

True, interest rates are at rock bottom, and many families can now afford to buy or refinance a house. But few families — including ours — have escaped the pinch of unemployment. Practically every American knows someone looking for work or clinging fearfully to the job they have.

The president retains many political assets. "Americans just like him," reports Zogby, and if the focus remains on fighting terrorism throughout the election, Republicans enjoy a huge edge over the Democrats on issues of national security.

But if losses keep mounting, in the workplace and on the battlefield, the president's re-election could be in jeopardy.

Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts are syndicated columnists.



The Presidential Sweepstakes

The race to challenge President Bush is on as Democrats begin lining up.

Howard Kurtz

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, July 18, 2003; 8:52 AM

Okay, we're going to harp on it again. Because it's getting out of control.

It now seems as though the only qualification for being president of the United States is getting people to write checks. Preferably large ones. And to get them to get their friends to write checks.

According to that standard, George Bush is the most qualified, since he just raised more money than all the '04 Dems combined. In which case maybe we should just declare the presidential race over.

Quick: Whose health plan is better, Gephardt's, Kerry's or Dean's?

Who knows? And from the point of view of the press, who cares? Much more fascinating to write about which candidate exceeded expectations and which one fell short. (And who sets these expectations? Ink-stained wretches, of course.)

This whole expectations thing reminds us of Wall Street, where a stock goes up even if the company loses money, as long as it loses less money than the consensus estimate of those brilliant brokerage analysts.

There is something ridiculously short-sighted in grading candidates on their fundraising skills months before a single vote has been cast. Sure, it's an important measure of a candidate's appeal and organizational prowess, but these days it seems like the only measure.

Why do reporters do it? It's easy and fun and involves real numbers and real deadlines. You can smell it and taste it. So it becomes a mock election before the real election. Meanwhile, analyzing the contenders' positions on health, affirmative action, gay rights, pension reform, Iraq, homeland security and so on is difficult. It involves the sort of value judgments that journalists are reluctant to make. So they fall back on the money primary to assess who's surging and who's sinking.

Slate's William Saletan cuts to the chase:

"Dick Gephardt is sinking. 'Gephardt Is Lagging Behind In Democrats' Fund-Raising,' says the New York Times. 'Gephardt fundraising comes in light,' agrees USA Today. 'Weak Performance of Gephardt Is a Surprise,' frets the front page of the Washington Post. 'Gephardt Cash Shortfall Raises Questions,' warns the Associated Press. . . .

"Why the fuss? On Tuesday, the Federal Election Commission released the candidates' official financial reports showing how much money they had raised in the second quarter of 2003. Gephardt raised $3.8 million. That's $3.8 million more than I raised. It's nearly twice what two-term governor and three-term senator Bob Graham raised. Of the nine established Democratic candidates, it puts Gephardt fifth in second-quarter fund raising and fourth in cash on hand.

"Not good enough, says the press. Gephardt 'fell short of his fund-raising goal by more than $1 million, raising questions Tuesday about his ability to excite Democratic donors and remain a top-tier candidate,' the AP declares. The Post pronounces his tally 'poor' and 'unexpectedly weak.' USA Today says it puts him 'well below his $5 million goal and the top tier.'

"But exactly who, other than John Kerry, is in this top tier? John Edwards, whose second-quarter receipts exceeded Gephardt's by just $600,000? Howard Dean, whose cash on hand exceeds Gephardt's by just $100,000? Joe Lieberman, who has raised just $700,000 more than Gephardt this year -- and trails him in cash on hand by three times that figure?

"This muddle-headed talk about tiers would be funny if it weren't so consequential. One day the press says you're out of the top tier because you didn't raise enough money, and the next day people stop giving you money because they've heard you're out of the top tier. All the while, the press pretends not to be driving this cycle."

Far more revealing, in our view, is reporting like this Howard Fineman profile of Dean in Newsweek:

"Charlie Dean died 30 years ago in the jungles of Laos at the age of 23. But all these years later his older brother, Howard, remains angry and unsettled about the event -- and the unanswered questions that surround it.

"He has had psychological counseling for what he calls his 'survivor's guilt,' and has journeyed to Laos seeking 'closure.' Yet Dean still cries about the loss, and is doing so now, slumped in a folding chair at his presidential-campaign headquarters up in Burlington, Vt.

" 'I know what it is like to sit at home, waiting,' he says to NEWSWEEK, his voice trailing off. His features collapse, his eyes and his face turn red. He raises a hand to his brow as tears stream down his cheeks and he sobs quietly. 'Sorry,' he says, then brightens as, ever the doctor, he examines, almost clinically, his own reaction. 'It's amazing after 30 years, isn't it?' "

You'll read about this again and again if Dean continues to stay in the mythical top tier.

Those three Democratic no-shows were crawling back to the NAACP yesterday, and the Hartford Courant focuses on its home-state candidate:

"Joe Lieberman, softly pleading for forgiveness and a second political chance from the NAACP, apologized yesterday at the beginning, the middle and the end of his five minute address to the group's convention.

"The verdict from the crowd was mixed. Those in attendance saw the Connecticut Democrat's gentle, heartfelt contrition as welcome and sincere. But many added that political damage had been done, and although it can be reversed, it will not happen quickly.

" 'We certainly accept their apologies,' NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said of Lieberman, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, all of whom made hastily arranged appearances yesterday after skipping the presidential candidate forum Monday."

Does that mean they're now persona some grata?

Roger Simon, while giving the NAACP a pass, in our view, barbecues Lieberman over The Snub:

"It pains me to do this, but I am forced to give Joe Lieberman my Dumb and Dumber Award for pulling off two bonehead plays in a single month.

"Joe Lieberman is the one serious candidate for president who was really active in the civil rights movement while growing up. More than active. He risked his life for the cause. While other candidates were comfortably ensconced in school, Lieberman went to Mississippi to register black voters at a time when this was seriously dangerous. . . .

"So what does Lieberman do? He stiffs the NAACP by not showing up at its annual convention in Florida this week and the NAACP leadership is now furious.

"Sure the NAACP was flexing its muscles and showing its clout by demanding the candidates show up. This is what interest groups do.

"But why does Lieberman stiff an interest group that a.) is extremely powerful in the Democratic party and b.) one with which he might have an advantage? . . .

"What did Lieberman do instead of going to the NAACP? He spent part of the day taping Bill O'Reilly's TV show.

"One can only guess at how the Lieberman Brain Trust came to this keenly astute political decision.

"First Genius Staffer: 'Do we want Joe on a TV show with a right-wing Republican audience that would not vote for him over George Bush in a million years or do we want him in front of thousands of black voters?'

"Second Genius Staffer: 'Hmmm, let me think. Maybe we ought to take a poll to find out. Drag some money out of the safe and get one going.'

"Third Genius Staffer: 'No time. Let's go with TV. I read somewhere lots of people watch TV.' "

The New York Times examines the whole pandering issue we raised yesterday:

"Three Democratic presidential candidates who were chastised by the N.A.A.C.P. for skipping the group's political forum in Miami on Monday upended their schedules today to fly south and make elaborate apologies. Earlier this week, all the candidates were summoned to a forum before gay leaders, where they were pressed to endorse gay marriage.

"These two events illustrated what has emerged as one of the most critical and, for some Democrats, perplexing differences between the modern-day Democratic and Republican Parties: How they accommodate constituencies that are at the base of their political foundation but endorse views that are not always popular with the broader electorate.

"President Bush has proved to be highly effective in his dealing with groups on the right. His appearances as candidate and as president before, say, the Christian Coalition, were far and few between. But the Democrats are finding themselves increasingly commandeered before groups that tend to highlight the very positions the White House would like highlighted, like the support of gay groups. That is taking place despite the efforts of Democratic Party leaders to protect the candidates from this situation.

" 'When is the last time you saw George Bush show up before the N.R.A.?' James Carville, who was Bill Clinton's campaign manager in 1992, said today, referring to the National Rifle Association. (The answer is never.)"

If you blinked, you missed the Brokaw Boomlet:

"No, Tom Brokaw is not running for President in 2004," says the New York Observer.

"Last month, despite the urging of his powerful friends, the 61-year-old NBC anchorman categorically ruled out any sort of candidacy. And that should have been that.

"But his friends won't let the idea drop. Claiming to see no one with the stature to challenge President Bush among the declared presidential candidates, they persist.

"'He simply is the greatest draft choice you could ever possibly imagine,' said media executive Barry Diller. 'He's such a natural on so many levels that I can't imagine how you could create it otherwise. Of course it's absurd, but there it is.'"

There it is, indeed.

Jonah Goldberg gets in the ring with Jerry Springer, and it's worth buying a ticket for:

"Jerry Springer is running for the Senate against, well, me . . .

"Springer has elevated me to the status of all that is wrong in Washington. If he were William Jennings Bryan, I would be his Cross of Goldberg.

"On January 26 of this year, on CNN's Late Edition -- the Sunday show on which I appear regularly -- I was asked what I thought about the fact that Jerry Springer was considering a run for the Senate from Ohio. After noting that as mayor of Cincinnati, Springer had gotten into trouble after paying a hooker by check, I tried to make a simple point: 'To me this proves that voter turnout is not this glorious thing . . . because if Jerry Springer shows up, he'll bring all these new people to the polls, they will be slack-jawed yokels, hicks, weirdoes, pervs, and whatnot.' . . .

"On July 11, Springer unveiled his fundraising infomercial. In it he takes my quote about 'slack-jawed yokels, hicks, etc.' and makes it sort of the central theme of his campaign. His infomercial amounts to a one-man cavalcade of ignorance, whining about how I represent the 'incestuous relationship' between the national media and the administration. The multimillionaire sleaze merchant is even selling pictures of himself -- for $100 a pop -- standing in front a sign, outside a small Ohio town, saying 'Welcome to Hicksville' with my quote superimposed over it.

"Now, there are only two problems with Springer's effort to run against me. It's dishonest and it's stupid."

Our jaw is definitely slack at this one.

Glenn Reynolds tosses out some issues for the '04 Dems, including:

"Lower the drinking age. The increase in the drinking age from 18 to 21 was a federal encroachment on traditional state affairs, foisted on the country by a Republican administration. Democrats are having trouble firing up younger voters. This should help. And with a war on, the 'old enough to fight = old enough to drink' argument seems a pretty strong one." We'll drink to that.

American Prospect's Tapped column has some thoughts on media diversity:

"Matthew Hoy of HoyStory claims, with regard to The New York Times, that there 'is not a major newspaper in the country whose collection of columnists are so dominated by one ideology. Diversity doesn't just mean skin color.'

"Four words for you, Matthew: The. Wall. Street. Journal.

"Of all the regular contributors to the Journal's op-ed page, only Al Hunt could be called a liberal. Meanwhile, the regular columnists on, the paper's op-ed spin-off, are all conservatives. Not a single lib among them.

"Three more words: The. Washington. Times. The Times' op-ed line-up includes one heterodox lib, Nat Hentoff, and no down-the-line lefties.

"OK, that's two major papers -- assuming you consider the Times a major paper -- that have a token partisan of the 'other' side, just like the Times does with William Safire. And yet you don't see liberals whining about 'ideological diversity.' (As Matt Labash [of the Weekly Standard] said recently, 'We've created this cottage industry in which it pays to be un-objective. It pays to be subjective as much as possible. It's a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket. I'm glad we found it actually.')

"Why should The New York Times be required to include a whole host of conservatives on its op-ed page? The op-ed page is where a paper nominally expresses its political opinions, and as you folks are always reminding us, the Times is indubitably a liberal paper. But if you think newspapers should, on principle, give equal time on their op-ed pages, you'd best include the Journal and The Washington Times in your litany of complaint."

Drudge dug up this bracing story from the Albany Times-Union about the Hawthorne Valley School:

"The first sign of trouble came last year when one couple learned their daughter had been strapped into her chair with a leather belt.

"Since then, more than a dozen parents have removed their elementary school youngsters amid complaints about disciplinary tactics by one of the teachers at Hawthorne Valley. Punishment included tying the hands of students and taping their mouths shut if they misbehaved.

"The teacher who doled it out, Claire McConnell, apologized, saying in a June 24 letter, 'I am sorry for my disciplinary misjudgment, very sorry. . . . I request your forgiveness.' . . .

"McConnell is the daughter of Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky. She did not return phone messages."

Finally, the British papers and the royal family remain a combustible combination, as this New York Daily News piece suggests:

"Princess Diana's kiss-and-tell lover has bolstered his title as Britain's biggest cad, sparking a public backlash for blabbing on TV about his royal sex romps.

"British newspapers yesterday gave smarmy ex-Army Capt. James Hewitt a flogging in print for crudely boasting in a new documentary that 'it's true' Diana was good in bed.

"The Daily Mail called Hewitt 'overweight and seedy' and outed him as 'a gigolo with older women.' The Daily Telegraph headlined their story on the scoundrel: 'Not So Big Boy.'

"The Sun took it a step further, sending its tallest reporter to stalk Hewitt in a rat suit and needle him with cracks like, 'What's it like to meet another rat?' The shame-on-you crusade erupted ahead of a documentary, set to air in Britain next week, about Hewitt hawking love letters Diana sent him while he was serving in the 1991 Gulf War."

Tough crowd.

© 2003


Presidential candidates spar on gay marriage


Seven of the nine Democratic presidential candidates responded to, and in some cases struggled over, questions about gay marriage Tuesday during a first-of-its-kind presidential candidates forum sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay political group.

The event was held in a 500-seat amphitheater at D.C.’s Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, which was filled to capacity by HRC members and supporters. The forum attracted extensive news media coverage, including gavel-to-gavel coverage by C-SPAN.

Sam Donaldson, the ABC News senior correspondent and moderator of the forum, set the tone when he opened the questioning by asking presidential candidate and U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), “You support civil unions but you do not support gay marriage. Why not?”

Kerry responded by saying he supports the full legal and economic rights and benefits of marriage for same-sex couples. He appeared to struggle with an explanation of why he believes civil unions would be on par with marriage when Donaldson interrupted him.

“If you’re implying there’s no distinction between civil unions and marriage, then why not support marriage?” Donaldson said. “What’s the distinction, senator?”

“The distinction is in the body of America that culturally, historically and religiously views marriage very differently,” Kerry said. “Marriage is viewed as a union between men and women, and that is a historical and cultural view that I believe. And that’s my position.”

Kerry’s response was greeted with loud hisses from many in the audience. The audience applauded earlier when Kerry expressed strong support for virtually all other gay rights issues, including support for lifting the ban on gays in the military.

Three candidates support gay marriage

In marked contrast to Kerry, presidential candidate Al Sharpton, the fiery New York City preacher and civil rights activist, drew roaring applause and cheers when he declared his unequivocal support for gay marriage.

Sharpton, a minister, told gay Democrats earlier this year that he is the only one of the candidates in a position to perform a gay marriage and would gladly do so. He told the HRC forum on Tuesday that gay marriage should not be treated any differently than a “black marriage or a white marriage.”

“The inference of the question is that gays are not human beings and cannot make a decision like other human beings,” Sharpton said.

Two other candidates — former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) — also said they support gay marriage, although Braun said she would leave the issue up to individual states.

Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) drew hisses when he, too, said he opposes gay marriage. Unlike Kerry, Lieberman stopped short of supporting full rights and benefits for same-sex couples through civil unions. Lieberman instead called for a “methodical review” of the benefits that could be obtained through a civil union, saying he did not want to make a “snap judgment” on such a complex issue.

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, and U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), the former House Democratic leader, sided with Kerry, saying they oppose gay marriage but favor equal rights and benefits for same-sex couples through civil unions. Dean noted that he is the only candidate to have signed a gay civil unions bill, which the Vermont legislature passed.

When pressed by Donaldson on why they thought civil unions were better than marriage, the two said civil unions would provide gay couples with the same benefits as marriage. After more prodding from Donaldson, they acknowledged that they could not support gay marriage on cultural and religious grounds.

In the practical world of politics, Gephardt said, civil unions are “doable” while gay marriage is unattainable at the present time.

Edwards, Graham are no-shows

Senators Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.), the two other candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, did not attend the HRC forum. Both sent word saying they wanted to attend but could not do so due to previous commitments, according to HRC.

A similar forum, sponsored July 14 by the NAACP at its annual convention in Miami Beach, Fla., drew six of the nine presidential candidates, with Lieberman, Gephardt and Kucinich missing the engagement. NAACP President Kweisi Mfume was blistering in his criticisms of the three no-shows, saying that “they have no legitimacy when they go into our communities later asking for our votes.”

HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch merely noted the absence of Graham and Edwards. Edwards is one of several Democratic primary contenders who have helped fund-raise for HRC, appearing as speakers at the gay rights organization’s black-tie dinners. Edwards spoke at the HRC dinner in Atlanta on May 10.

In an HRC survey of presidential candidates, which HRC released at the start of the forum, Graham and Edwards said they oppose gay marriage. Graham indicated he supports extending marital rights and benefits to gay couples through some form, which he did not name or define. Edwards said in the survey that he supports partnership benefits for gay couples in a “committed, long-term relationship,” but did not disclose his position on civil unions.

Birch called the forum a historic first for the gay civil rights movement. The fact that seven out of nine Democratic presidential candidates agreed to attend a gay community forum shows that gays are viewed as an important part of the American electorate, Birch said.

Under groundrules set by the candidates and HRC, forum officials had to ensure that the event did not turn into a debate, said HRC Political Director Winnie Stachelberg. The candidates remained out of site behind a stage until moderator Donaldson called on them, one at a time, to appear before a podium to respond to his questions. Members of the audience were not permitted to ask questions.

The candidates were allowed to make brief opening and closing statements, in which they could say whatever they wished. Most of them used their opening or closing statements to discuss non-gay issues.

Donaldson said he decided to devote his questioning to just two issues: gay marriage versus civil unions and gays in the military. He noted that, based on his review of the candidates’ positions, he saw essentially no significant difference among them on their support for gay civil rights. Marriage was the one area, Donaldson said, where disagreement existed.

Support for repealing military’s gay policy

All of the candidates except Graham stated in their HRC survey responses that they favor repealing the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which requires that gays be discharged from the military if they disclose their sexual orientation. When Donaldson asked them how they would convince a skeptical Congress to repeal DADT, all of the candidates said they would use the authority and prestige of the office of the president.

“It’s an issue of equality before the law,” said Kucinich, who vowed to invoke his powers as commander-in-chief to direct military commanders to accept the notion of gays serving opening in the armed forces.

Birch told reporters at a press briefing after the forum that some of the candidates — as well as much of the American people — are struggling over how to separate the religious aspects of marriage from the civil aspect, which confers federal and state legal rights and benefits.

According to Birch, HRC and other gay civil rights organizations hope to convince lawmakers and the public that churches and other religious institutions would not be forced to endorse same-sex marriage if a state were to legalize “civil” marriage for same-sex couples.

She said HRC would not make gay marriage a litmus test issue that candidates must support to obtain HRC’s endorsement. HRC would endorse a presidential candidate based on the “totality of issues” of concern to the gay community, she said.

“What is remarkable is you have seven of the nine of these candidates turning up at a gay presidential forum,” said Birch, “and more than that, that they are all well along the path to providing equal rights to gay and lesbian Americans and their families.”

The dominance of the issue of gay marriage at the HRC forum highlights what some gay political activists say could pose a dilemma for both gays and the Democratic Party in the upcoming presidential election.

With President Bush and the Republican Party opposed to both gay marriage and civil unions, some political pundits say the Republicans could use gay marriage as a “wedge issue” against whichever Democratic candidate wins that party’s nomination in the 2004 election.

Birch said during the forum that President Bush and any other Republican candidates for president will be invited to a forum later. That remark drew laughter from a skeptical crowd.


Human Rights Campaign
1640 Rhode Island Ave., NW.
Washington, DC 20036

NAACP Wraps Annual Meeting

Jim Teeple
18 Jul 2003, 01:43 UTC

The NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, wrapped up it's 94th annual convention in Miami, Florida Thursday with a warning to U.S. Democratic presidential candidates not to take the African-American vote for granted in next year's presidential election. NAACP delegates also passed a resolution calling on the U.S. government to support a multilateral peacekeeping force for Liberia.

NAACP Delegates had some surprise guests on the last day of their convention on Miami Beach. Three Democratic Party presidential candidates, who had skipped a "candidates forum" on Monday, showed up to ask the delegates forgiveness, and to pledge support for causes supported by the NAACP.

Presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Leiberman

The three, Connecticut Senator, Joseph Lieberman, Missouri Representative, Richard Gephardt and Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich had declined to participate in Monday's 'candidates forum," which was attended by the six other Democratic candidates, angering NAACP leaders and many of the more than 10,000 participants at the convention.

Mr. Kucinich said he missed Monday's session to vote on a health-care bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. Mr. Gephardt also apologized, saying he had a commitment he could not break. The Missouri Democrat, a former House Minority leader, received warm applause from the delegates pledging to uphold voting rights, maintain affirmative action and work to provide universal health care.

Mr. Lierberman asked the delegates for a 'second chance" saying his ties with the NAACP go back more than 40 years when he worked as a student volunteer to register voters in the southern U.S. state of Mississippi during the height of the civil rights movement.

"Leadership also means being able to admit when you are wrong," he said. "Not coming Monday, I was wrong. I regret it and I apologize for it, and particularly so with regard to the NAACP."

On Monday the six other candidates, North Carolina Senator, John Edwards, Massachusetts Senator, John Kerry, former Illinois Senator Carol Mosely Braun, former Vermont Governor, Howard Dean, Florida Senator Bob Graham and civil rights activist, the Reverend Al Sharpton addressed the convention and answered questions from delegates. The Democrat's all-but-certain opponent next year, President George Bush declined an invitation to attend.

African-Americans are an important constituency for the Democratic Party and Black voters vote overwhelmingly for Democratic Party candidates in national elections.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume

Speaking Thursday, NAACP President, Kweisi Mfume, said he appreciated the apologies given on Thursday and the appearances by other candidates earlier this week. However he says the NAACP will not throw its support to any one candidate at this time.

"We certainly heard their apologies. We appreciated the spirit in which they were given. Accordingly we have accepted them," he said. "But, in accepting those apologies, that does not guarantee people will particularly gravitate to what they are saying. We do not have that power. Those candidates really have to go back out across the nation to seek that support."

NAACP delegates also passed a resolution Thursday urging the U.S. government to send troops to participate in any future multilateral peacekeeping force in Liberia. NAACP President, Mfume says if the United States is willing to participate in peacekeeping operations in other parts of the world, it should also be willing to get involved in Liberia a country settled by freed American slaves in the 19th century.

"We have said for some time now that the African continent and the nations therein, out not to be treated differently from others," he said. If we are going to have peace plans and road maps and policy positions on different regions of the world then we ought to have them on Africa."

On Wednesday NAACP delegates met with diplomatic representatives of several Caribbean nations and pledged NAACP backing for Caribbean Community efforts to alleviate the effects of global trade rules, which some Caribbean leaders say hurt their economies. The NAACP delegates also pledged to work to change U.S. immigration rules that allow the U.S. government to deport criminals back to their countries of birth in the Caribbean. Law enforcement officials in the Caribbean say policy has led to a crime wave in the region.