WASHINGTON (CNN) — He would surely make history. But would Sen. Barack Obama’s election as America’s first black president transform the nation? Obama says yes. Sen. Barack Obama tells the Urban League that his presidency would unleash a “transformation.” “The day I’m inaugurated, the country looks at itself differently. And don’t underestimate that power. Don’t underestimate that transformation,” Obama told the crowd Friday at the National Urban League convention in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Democrat from Illinois was answering a question about the racial polarization in America. Obama said “race is still an enormous factor in our society. But economics can overcome a lot of racial division.” The Democratic presidential hopeful also said that action, rather than high-minded discussions, is the way to end racial inequality.
Obama said “if we’re doing the right thing and making sure that our young people are going to school, that they’re getting good jobs, that they’re starting businesses, that they’re living in thriving neighborhoods and communities, that will do more to lessen racial tension, division and conflict than any set of roundtables and blue ribbon commissions are going to do.” Two of Obama’s main Democratic rivals, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, and former Sen. John Edwards, D-North Carolina, also spoke about racial inequality during the Urban League convention.
Clinton told the crowd that she rejects “a conversation about 1.4 million young men as a threat, as a headache, or as a lost cause. I reject the conversation about 1.4 million disappointments, failures, and casualties of a broken system. That is not who these young men are. I believe it is long past time for a new and different conversation. It is time for America to begin a conversation about 1.4 million future workers, entrepreneurs, taxpayers, community leaders, business executives.”
Edwards addressed affirmative action, saying “I would ensure that my administration was a representation of what affirmative action can be. I would make sure that my administration looks like America, and I mean, from the top to the bottom, all the way through the administration.” Edwards continued, saying “I would ensure that judges that I appointed to the federal bench and justices nominated to the United States Supreme Court believed in real equality and believed in the concept of affirmative action.”
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, also spoke at the National Urban League convention, but no Republican candidates came to the presidential forum. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee met with members of the league at a gathering Thursday night. This is the second forum with a large African-American crowd that the Democratic candidates attended this month. All of the Democrats showed up in Detroit on July 12 for the presidential forum at the NAACP convention.
Black voters are crucial to the Democratic Party. “Nearly nine in 10 blacks vote Democratic, making them the most reliable Democratic voting block in the country” said CNN Pollster Keating Holland. And they’ll play an important role in picking the next Democratic presidential nominee, especially in South Carolina and Florida, two early primary states.
In CNN’s most recent polls, Clinton and Obama are running neck and neck among black voters nationally, though Clinton was well ahead in South Carolina. But it’s still early and many voters haven’t made up their minds. “I’m not feeling that at this point either candidate would be that much of a difference” says Amy Johnson, an undecided black voter in New Orleans, Louisiana.