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McCain Faces the Race Issue Before Urban League « The Washington Independent

ORLANDO, Fla. — With the race issue now front and center, Sen. John McCain’s speech today to the National Urban League Conference, which, on its Website, bills itself as “the nation’s oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream” — could not come at a better time. McCain is expected to deliver remarks and then take questions from the audience — giving today’s event the potential to be one of the livelier stops of the campaign thus far.

As we wait for McCain to take the stage here at the conference, the audience — as well as the speakers — appears to be very much in the bag for Sen. Barack Obama, scheduled to appear here tomorrow.

“This election is our lunch-counter moment for the 21st century,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president of the Hip Hop Caucus, during an impassioned speech.

In addition to the controversies over the McCain camp’s charge that Obama played the race card and the Obama/Paris/Britney ad released by the McCain campaign, McCain will almost certainly have to defend his recent comments about his support for an Arizona ballot initiative that, if passed, will outlaw affirmative action. His speech today — like the one he gave to the NAACP convention a few weeks back — will likely focus on his plan to reform the education system, particularly in inner cities and poor communities. McCain has repeatedly referred to education as the defining civil-rights issue of the 21st century. However, with all of these additional issues swirling, it seems improbable that the boilerplate praise he offered for Martin Luther King Jr. in front of the NAACP will win over this crowd — especially considering prominent black talk radio hosts have recently been bringing up McCain’s past, and now-recanted, opposition to the creation of the federal holiday honoring the slain civil-rights leader.

Running against the likely first black presidential nominee in U.S. history, McCain’s prospects for winning many African-American votes are bleak — and that’s putting it politely — so maybe he deserves some credit just for showing up.

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