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Kerry courts black voters at church stops
Updated: 2004-10-11 09:34

With just three Sundays left before Election Day, Sen. John Kerry is asking for all the help he can get from black voters and the Almighty.

The Democratic presidential nominee attended two church services Sunday, instead of his usual one, worshipping first with Haitian Catholics and then with Baptists, where the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton tied his election to the civil rights struggle.

"We have an unfinished march in this nation," Kerry said at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, as many congregants waved fans handed out by the campaign with his slogan, "Hope is on the way."

"Never again will a million African Americans be denied the right to exercise their vote in the United States of America," Kerry promised, referring to the disputed Florida recount in the 2000 presidential race. As he often does before black audiences, Kerry said he has a legal team that will aggressively respond to any allegations of disenfranchisement.

Black turnout is key to Kerry's plan for victory in Florida and elsewhere — less than 10 percent of black voters nationally supported George W. Bush in 2000. But Kerry's campaign says there have been efforts to turn religious blacks against him based on his support for abortion rights and civil unions for same-sex couples.

Jackson told worshippers their political concerns are issues that touch their everyday lives, not gay marriage.

"I see disturbing signs today that some of our churches have been confused by wolves in sheep's clothing," Jackson said. "How did someone else put their agenda in the front of the line?"

"November 2, the power is in your hands, hands that once picked cotton," Jackson said.

Added Sharpton: "Everything we have fought for, marched for, gone to jail for — some died for — could be reversed if the wrong people are put on the Supreme Court."

Speakers avoided criticizing President Bush by name, since they were in church, but he was indirectly vilified.

Former Rep. Carrie Meek said Kerry is "fighting against liars and demons. ... He challenges the man who walks with a jaunty step." She rocked her hips in an imitation of Bush's swagger as the congregation cheered and Kerry laughed from his high-backed seat behind the pulpit.

Bush did not campaign on Sunday, instead spending the day at his Texas ranch riding his bike, working around the property and engaging in informal preparations for the campaign's final debate. Vice President Dick Cheney also stayed off the campaign trail, while Kerry running mate John Edwards appeared on the five Sunday talk shows before heading to the Midwest.

In Washington, Republican Party chief Ed Gillespie criticized Kerry for saying in an interview in The New York Times Magazine that, "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance."

"This demonstrates a disconcerting pre-September 11 mind-set that will not make our country safer," Gillespie said on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "And that is what we see relative to winning the war on terror and relative to Iraq."

Hours later, Bush's re-election campaign announced a new television ad that plays off of Kerry's interview comment. "Terrorism ... a nuisance? How can Kerry protect us when he doesn't understand the threat?" the ad says. The campaign said the ad would run on national cable television networks and the campaign's Web site.

In Florida, Kerry, who is Catholic, also attended Mass at St. James Catholic Church. Aides said it was for his own personal worship rather than for any campaigning and that Kerry plans to fit in Catholic mass every Sunday through election day.

As Kerry told a teenager who asked him Saturday night if he can get rid of standardized tests, "You do a lot more praying during exams than any other time of the year."

Kerry was arriving in New Mexico late Sunday to prepare for the third and final presidential debate on Wednesday in Tempe, Ariz.

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