Bush and GOP reaching out to black voters Mindful of gains in the last election, the President and party chief will speak at key gatherings today.

Posted: July 14, 2005

WASHINGTON — President Bush is skipping this week's annual NAACP convention for the fifth straight time, but that isn't preventing the White House and Republican Party from waging a drive to woo African American voters.

The outreach effort, which began shortly after Bush's reelection, will be on display today as the President addresses about 3,200 people at the Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration luncheon in Indianapolis and as Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman speaks at the NAACP convention in Milwaukee.

In Indianapolis, Bush will tout his "ownership society" theme, noting gains African Americans have made in home ownership and small business on his watch. He will also cite progress that African American students have made under his education policies and highlight the billions of dollars in aid that he pledged to struggling African nations by 2010 at last week's Group of Eight summit.

Mehlman will speak to the NAACP about how the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln lost its way with African American voters over the years and how determined the party is to get them back, RNC officials said.

Bush won votes from 9 percent of African American voters in 2000 and increased his share to 11 percent in 2004.

Political analysts said Republican opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, support for school vouchers, and Bush's openness about his religious faith persuaded some traditionally Democratic African American voters to choose him over his challenger, Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.).

"Here's what Ken Mehlman does: He looks at polling data and sees that African Americans agree with them [Republicans] on school vouchers and gay marriage," said David Bositis, a senior analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington research center on African American affairs. "He goes to an audience and says, 'Look, we have some issues you may find attractive.' "

Hoping to build on Republican momentum, Mehlman has embarked on a campaign to woo African Americans, adopting the mantra "Give Us a Chance, We'll Give You a Choice." Since becoming RNC chairman in January, Melhman has held about a dozen African American outreach forums in places such as Trenton and Howard University, a prominent African American school in Washington.

Democrats and other opponents of the Bush-Republican Party agenda are skeptical.

"Republicans are making inroads, but it's only marginal inroads," said Ronald Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland. "Some of the other issues - the Iraq war, education, tax cuts, unemployment - don't sit well with blacks and will prevent them from gaining more support."

Bush hopes to get his message across at the Black Expo. His appearance there comes one year to the month after he dropped polite White House talk of "scheduling conflicts" and said he skipped the 2004 NAACP convention in Philadelphia because some of the organization's leaders had made harsh statements about him.

"You've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me," the President said then.

Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said scheduling conflicts would keep Bush from this year's convention. The NAACP said it had invited Bush in January to speak in Milwaukee.

Contact reporter William Douglas at 202-383-6026 or bdouglas@krwashington.com.

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