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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 18:55 GMT 19:55 UK
Kerry targets minority voters

By Rob Watson
BBC Washington correspondent

Senator John Kerry is back on the campaign trail - after a brief pause for the death of Ronald Reagan and a summer holiday with his wife.

Declining voter turnout in US presidential elections, 1960-2000
The target on his return is black and Hispanic voters

One of those givens about US presidential elections is that black and Hispanic Americans are among the Democrats most loyal supporters.

It is often said that if enough blacks and Hispanics bother to vote they can swing an election the Democrats' way.

It comes as no surprise perhaps that Senator Kerry has put in an appearance at the annual convention of the organisation headed by America's highest profile black leader, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who is anxious to remove the Bush administration from the country's political diet, as well as his own.

"I am on a low-CARB diet: No Cheney, no Ashcroft, no Rumsfeld, no Bush and very little Rice," Reverend Jackson said in his introduction of Senator Kerry.

Though Senator Kerry did not exactly show the Reverend Jackson's wit, he tried to connect with the largely black audience before him.

"African-American unemployment is now 10% double the rate of whites. In New York, 50% of the African-Americans are unemployed. We can do better," Mr Kerry told the audience.

Nader threat

If Senator Kerry had the time to read the Washington Post during his busy schedule, his eye surely would have been caught by the following headline: Kerry urged to do more to get Black votes.

John Kerry and a Black worker
Blacks say that Kerry cannot take their support for granted
One of those doing the urging is Dr Roland Walters, Director of the African American leadership Institute at the University of Maryland and an influential voice in the African-American community.

While Dr Waters says Mr Kerry is not doing anything wrong in courting black voters, he said the senator from Massachusetts needs to make the transition from primary candidate to presidential nominee.

"You all of a sudden have to mobilise national constituencies. You have to draw them close to your campaign," he said.

John Kerry still holds an impressive lead over George W Bush with Black voters. Polls show 9 out of 10 African-Americans support Mr Kerry over George Bush.

However in this tight race, votes cannot be taken for granted, and Dr Walters says that independent candidate Ralph Nader might pull four to 6% from Senator Kerry, which could decide the election.

"In order to compensate for that on the Democratic side, blacks really need to increase their turnout by that amount. It seems to me that the onus is on the [Kerry] campaign to make sure there is a very strong organisation in the black community," he said.

And Dr Clive Callendar said backs John Kerry. "It is incredibly important that we have an alternative to George Bush," he said.

But he says that black community must be involved in the Democrats' campaign.

And Black Americans worry that with attention focussed abroad, to Iraq, "our local issues become non-issues," said Dr Callendar.

The war has diverted billions of dollars that could have been used to address minority issues, he added.

Turnout critical

Dr Averette Mhoon Parker said Mr Kerry needs to reach out more to minorities, not only to Black Americans but also to Hispanics.

If we're not included, then we just don't go out and vote
Dr Averette Mhoon Parker, black American
And it is more than simply increasing the number of minorities on his staff.

"I want more than a face that looks like me. I really want them included in the process," she said.

"If we're not included, then we just don't go out and vote," she added.

And those votes might make the difference in this era of razor-thin margins of victory in American politics. It is all about turnout

Dr Walters said that John Kerry has to reach out to popular black leaders like Jesse Jackson.

"Unless he reaches out to [Jesse Jackson] and people like him, we're not going to be able to do much in this election," he said.

Who should John Kerry pick as running mate?
Wesley Clark
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Tom Vilsack
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