McCain in Obamaland

The GOP nominee goes into hostile territory and asks for votes he knows are going to someone else.


CINCINNATI--If any candidate for president ever demonstrated that he had guts, it was John McCain when he dared to appear before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

It's unlikely that the Arizona senator has faced a crowd so skeptical since he confronted his torturers in the Hanoi Hilton POW camp during the Vietnam War. Though the NAACP is a nonpartisan group that is forbidden to endorse candidates, the convention center where it is holding its 99th annual convention looks like a rally for McCain's opponent, Barack Obama.

To get into the cavernous hall where McCain spoke, delegates—many decked out in Obama T-shirts and caps—had to walk past huge screens blaring the Democratic nominee's triumphant speech to the group only two days earlier. A front-page story in The New York Times on Wednesday reported that only 2 percent of black voters support McCain versus 89 percent for Obama.

"It took courage to come before a body like the NAACP and ask for support," conceded Nimrod Chapel Jr., vice president of the NAACP chapter in Jefferson City, Mo., with an appreciative nod at the fact that McCain had even subjected himself to a few unscripted questions from the audience.

Did McCain's speech change anyone's mind?

Chapel looked at me like I was crazy. The fact is that McCain's appearance here has nothing to do with winning black votes since McCain knows that is impossible. His intent, described perceptively by Denton Watson, the biographer of NAACP legend Clarence Mitchell, "is to show that he is a candidate who will talk to all sorts of Americans and not exclude anyone."

In other words, it's to show white swing voters who don't want to vote for a bigot that he's not one—and to distance himself from the reviled Bush administration, whose name alone is sufficient to send NAACP members into a frenzy.

McCain conceded all that near the end of his speech by saying "whether or not I get your support I need your good will and your council."