Most candidates to skip forum at NAACP event

Saturday, October 4, 2003

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A presidential forum at the South Carolina NAACP's annual convention will be missing several candidates, a prospect that has upset leaders of the civil rights group.

Only three of the 10 Democratic hopefuls -- Carol Moseley Braun, Al Sharpton and John Edwards -- have accepted invitations to attend a round-table discussion on minority issues in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 10.

A day earlier, all the candidates will be on the opposite end of the country at a Democratic presidential debate in Phoenix.

"They realize black people want to see, touch and feel their candidate and know that the candidate knows something about them," state chapter president James Gallman said of candidates attending the forum. "I think maybe the others need to understand that a little bit more."

Gallman said he was disappointed that the candidates could not adjust their schedules for an event in a state where blacks could make up the majority of voters in the Democrats' first-in-the-South primary Feb. 3.

"An empty seat at the table should give a clear message to our constituents -- and South Carolina voters in general -- of a campaign's lack of interest in their concerns," Gallman said.

Edwards, a North Carolina leading in South Carolina polls, was able to rearrange his schedule, campaign spokeswoman Jenni Engebretsen said.

This is the second time the presidential candidates have drawn the wrath of civil rights leaders for skipping an NAACP event. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio angered national NAACP officials when they bypassed a presidential forum this summer in Florida, prompting an apology, schedule changes and a last-minute appearance from all three candidates.

Brian Hardwick, Lieberman's deputy campaign manager, said the Connecticut senator will speak at the convention but not at the forum because of his observance of the Jewish sabbath.

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