Back in November, the National Urban League extended invitations to anyone considering a presidential run to speak at our annual conference this July in St. Louis, Mo. We figured they'd have no legitimate excuse not to come if we started our outreach two years before Election Day.
Well, we were wrong.
After two rounds of invitations, we've received two rejections — from former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Giuliani has got some bigger fish to fry, apparently, and is so busy that he's got not just one but two scheduling conflicts that render him unable to grace our stage. I understand the 2008 presidential campaign is already underway — well before elections of the past — but it's not as if we're holding our convention in midst of the primary season.
As Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama start their jostling for the Black vote, Giuliani and Romney appear to have written us off even through their party's sitting leader — President George W. Bush — saw fit to include us on his calendar — three times since he took office in 2001. Bush boycotted the NAACP in 2004, but not us. His latest visit, in 2004, featured a debate between him and Democratic presidential nominee Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. In 2006, then-Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman and Democratic National Committee head Howard Dean appeared. But in 2007, we know one thing is for sure — Giuliani and Romney won't be around.
It's so ironic that Giuliani, "America's Mayor," would turn down an invitation to speak in front of the nation's largest organization devoted to urban issues. But then again, he cannot possibly depend on us to pull him through to victory in the GOP primaries. He needs to do what every other red-blooded political candidate seems required to do — court White evangelicals, an increasingly influential and populous sector of the electorate. In 2006, they made up 24 percent of the electorate, up from 23 percent in 2004, according to exit polls.
In the height of the 2006 mid-term elections, the media surmised that the Republican Party was losing its grip over White evangelicals. Nearly 71 percent of White evangelicals surveyed in exit polls supported the GOP, down from 78 percent in 2004. For just a quarter of the voting population, they surely have a big voice. It seems that both parties are bending over backwards way too much to appease this sector of the electorate.
Minorities made up 20 percent of voters on Election Day in 2006 — 10 percent African American, 8 percent Latino and 2 percent Asian, according to exit polls. By the end of this century, there will be no majority ethnic group. So, our political leaders must take everyone's opinions into account if they want to lead our nation effectively.
I realize that African Americans tend to support Democrats but does that mean Republicans like Giuliani and Romney should write us off so early in the campaign? The Democratic presidential contenders must also realize that our support is not a given.
Clinton, Obama, McCain and the rest are hardly off the hook. We haven't heard from them, either. But at least they haven't written us off.
The National Urban League promotes issues that are just as important to middle-class Republican NASCAR dads as they are to single African American mothers struggling to make ends meet. Everyone has a desire to make their lives better for themselves and future generations.
That is why I'm urging our presidential contenders to cease and desist with the practice of drive-by politicking. They must that to be an effective president of this nation in the 21st Century they'll need to reach out to all groups equally.
They cannot just drive by and wave. To ensure a better future for our nation, they'll have to engage a wide range of viewpoints no matter what kind of bang they think they'll get for their campaign buck on Election Day.
Marc Morial is president/CEO of the National Urban League.