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Election 2000: Bush Reaches Out to African-Americans; Gore Attempts to Solidify Base

Aired July 12, 2000 - 1:21 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Capital punishment has emerged as a flash point in Bush's presidential campaign, though he insists his state has never executed an innocent person. In his 5 1/2 years as governor, Texas has put 136 inmates to death, far more than any other state. Death penalty protesters interrupted Bush's introduction this week at the NAACP convention in Baltimore.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, today, Al Gore spoke to the same group, and he too was interrupt, but by standing ovations. There were hugs all around as the Democratic presidential nominee-to-be entered the convention hall. Gore kept the mood alive by pledging his support for public schools and hate crimes laws, and for ending so- called racial profiling by police. Bottom line, Gore says he, not Bush, is the real friend of African-Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have come here not just in an election year, but year after year. I worked with you. I have stood with you. I am proud to have won some battles alongside you. You are American heroes because, for 91 years now, you've been the foot soldiers for justice and freedom. For 91 years now, you have been dedicated to lifting every child, leveling every barrier and leaving no one behind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Conventional wisdom says Gore is preaching to the choir while Bush is whistling in the wind, but the usual Democratic and GOP constituencies can't be taken for granted this time around.

And to explain that is the executive producer of CNN's political unit. Beth Fouhy, who joins us.

Beth, why not?

BETH FOUHY, EXEC. PRODUCER, CNN POLITICAL: Hi, Natalie. Well, I think this is an interesting year because you've got a Republican candidate in George W. Bush who's really trying to break a lot of stereotypes. He has made a big point of going out, reaching out to non-traditional constituencies for Republican candidates. The black community is one. He did go to the NAACP convention, as we mentioned. He -- Bob Dole did not go in 1996. So he really made an effort to sort of bridge a gap that had been there. And he's talking about things that really matter to a lot of disenfranchised communities. He's trying to raise the level of hope, as he is always saying, for a lot of underprivileged people. The real question is whether or not that rings true with the minority community.

We were just seeing Al Gore speaking to the NAACP. He enjoys something like an 80 percent approval rating among African-American voters. I don't think that George W. Bush is probably going to seriously erode that, but he's making efforts that could definitely win him some votes.

ALLEN: What are the issues that Mr. Bush and many African- Americans might not see eye-to-eye on?

FOUHY: Well, the death penalty is one. You had a story on that just a couple of seconds ago. That is a really big flash point for a lot of African-Americans: the vast number of death penalty cases in this country that seem to be African-American, also in Texas. He has presided, he, Governor Bush, over many, many more executions than any other governor. So that's a really big problem for a lot of people in the African American community.

Also, a lot of the folks out on the trail where Governor Bush goes to visit complain that he comes, he takes a picture, he stands there. It's a very good opportunity for him to look moderate, but then he never really does anything to help those people in the communities that he targets for campaign opportunities. So the question is whether he's really going to follow through on any of these things anytime soon.

ALLEN: Well, he definitely is known for someone who's made solid gains in the Hispanic community.

FOUHY: Right.

ALLEN: And knowing that, could that spill over for him? Could African-Americans take a second look at him because of that?

FOUHY: Well, I think those communities are very, very different. And he's got a huge Hispanic community in Texas, so they know him. The percentage of blacks in that state is a lot smaller. The Hispanic community is definitely the largest minority in Texas.

But I do think he has definitely hit on something that is working for him across the board, this conveying constantly that he is a different kind of Republican, that groups that have, in the past, never wanted to vote Republican or have looked askance at most Republican candidates are at least taking a second look. They may not come his way, but he is definitely reaching away from his base and into a new community, where Al Gore is still trying to solidify his base. The black community, labor organizations, a lot of the people who typically vote Democratic are still people that he is courting very assiduously, whereas the base is so unified behind Governor Bush that he's reaching out to new communities. And that's a very big step in this campaign.

ALLEN: And coming up in convention season, we'll probably be hearing more of that courting, too, in just a few weeks.

FOUHY: Exactly. You definitely will.

ALLEN: Beth Fouhy, CNN political unit in Washington, thank you.

FOUHY: Thanks.

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