The Kerry-Edwards Team: Looking for an October surprise among Black voters

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Kerry EdwardsPresumably, by the time you read this, John Kerry and John Edwards will be the Democratic team set to challenge George Bush and his running mate for the White House. It is also assumed that Kerry and Edwards will have done even more to shore up their standing with the African-American community, thereby offsetting the charge that Black Americans are often taken for granted by the Democratic Party.

A few weeks before the Democratic National Convention, Kerry tapped Bill Lynch as his deputy campaign manager. Lynch, a well-known political consultant, managed David Dinkins’ successful mayoral campaign in 1989. Several political pundits cheered the move, believing it would help allay the charge that Kerry had no Blacks among his top advisers. This appointment occurred just before Kerry was scheduled to speak at the annual NAACP convention in Philadelphia.  Kerry earned several standing ovations at the convention, particularly after he promised to do something about the genocide occurring in the Sudan. More than 30,000 Black African farmers have been killed in that nation and a million displaced by the government-backed Arab militia known as the Janjaweed.

Another tactical move to enhance the Kerry-Edwards ticket was the selection of Barack Obama to deliver the convention’s keynote address. Obama, a state senator from Illinois and practically a shoo-in to become the next Black U.S. senator, is a rising star in the Democratic Party. He was among several other Black speakers at the convention, including the Rev. David Alston, who served in Vietnam with Kerry.

During his speech, Alston recounted the hazard duty he performed with Kerry as his commanding officer. “He was known for taking the fight to the enemy,” Alston recalled. “And he never lost his cool. He showed the courage to speak truth to power. He is a man of conviction and courage. He should be this country’s next commanding officer.”

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry, pastor of Brooklyn’s House of the Lord Church, was among the observers in Boston during the Democratic National Convention, and he expressed optimism that as the campaign moves toward November, there will be more Blacks and other minorities visible in the Kerry-Edwards ranks. “I think Kerry understands that he has to do more,” Daughtry asserted. He said he was encouraged to see that more than 40 percent of the delegates at the convention were minorities.

Daughtry also believes that Kerry understands the need to address the cynicism that pervades Black America following the disenfranchisement of many Blacks during the last presidential election. Some of this concern was addressed by Princeton University Professor Cornel West at one of the sessions outside the convention. In 2000, West backed Ralph Nader, whose candidacy, many believe, played a decisive role in taking votes from Al Gore in critical swing states.

“I will pray for Nader,” West said of his current relationship with the independent presidential candidate, who was recently rebuked by the Green Party, “but I won’t vote for him.” West also said he would ask Kerry and Edwards not to play the “superficial game of rhetoric for one constituency and rhetoric for another constituency and not say what they really believe deep down in their soul.”

West concluded that he was not that excited about the Kerry-Edwards team. And this impression is not too far from how the Black population in general feels about the candidates, according to many surveys. Many Americans hope that by the fall there is an “October surprise” among potential Black voters, who will then be ready to truly vote for Kerry-Edwards, and not just against Bush.