DETROIT — Presidential hopeful Barack Obama drew the loudest cheers of the eight Democratic candidates at a civil rights forum Thursday as he assailed the Bush administration’s record on race relations. The candidates shared the stage at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s 98th annual convention. But it was Obama, seeking to become the first black president, who drew the strongest applause from the 3,000 attendees.
“I know what you know, which is that despite all the progress that has been made we still have more work to do,” said the first-term Illinois senator. The candidates are in a fierce struggle to capture the support of black voters, refusing to cede it to Obama. Hillary Rodham Clinton enjoys strong support in the black community, and John Edwards has won praise for his commitment to fighting poverty. His performance Thursday marked the first time Obama has managed to outshine Clinton in a candidates forum.
After the forum, Fox News microphones picked up Clinton and Edwards discussing their desire to limit future joint appearances to exclude some rivals lower in the crowded field. “We should try to have a more serious and a smaller group,” Edwards said. Clinton agreed. “We’ve got to cut the number … They’re not serious,” she said, then thanked Obama and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich as they walked by. Turning back to Edwards, she added that she thought their campaigns had already tried to limit the debates and “we’ve gotta get back to it.”
Obama, 45, said he was too young to have participated in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but said he was inspired by it. That comment prompted a mild dig from Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, who stressed his long career in public life. “I’ve been around awhile, and I’m old enough to remember the civil rights movement,” Biden, 64, said. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut also participated.
Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo was the lone GOP candidate, and said he accepted the invitation because his message is for all Americans. A vociferous foe of illegal immigration, Tancredo said the wages of black workers suffer because of illegal workers.