CINCINNATI - It was a far cry from the exuberance that greeted his opponent two days earlier, but John McCain was welcomed politely by the national convention of the NAACP yesterday as he praised the history made by Barack Obama while criticizing his ideas.
"Don't tell him I said this, but he is an impressive fellow in many ways," said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. "He has inspired a great many Americans, some of whom had wrongly believed that a political campaign could hold no purpose or meaning for them.
"His success should make Americans, all Americans, proud," he said. "Of course, I would prefer his success not continue quite as long as he hopes."
Mr. McCain used much of his 40-minute speech at the Duke Energy Convention Center to focus on reform of public education, including his call for taxpayer-funded vouchers to help parents pay for tuition at nonpublic schools, an issue that divides the African-American community.
"For all the best efforts of teachers and administrators, the worst problems of our public school system are often found in black communities," said the Arizona senator. "Black and Latino students are among the most likely to drop out of high school. I don't have to tell you that. African-Americans are also among the least likely to go on to college.
"After decades of hearing the same big promises from the public education establishment, and seeing the same poor results, it is surely time to shake off old ways and to demand new reforms," he said.
He noted that Mr. Obama joined other Democrats in Congress in opposing Washington D.C.'s voucher program.
"In remarks to the American Federation of Teachers last weekend, Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as, 'tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice,'•" he said. "All of that went over well with the teachers' union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?"
Mr. Obama made similar comments about vouchers before the 99th annual NAACP convention Monday night. Ohio has its own voucher programs focused on students in Cleveland schools and those in failing schools statewide.
"Making education the national priority will require more than campaign speeches or recycled bromides," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton. "It will require a genuine and sustained commitment to policies that will strengthen and not undermine our public schools."
Mr. McCain called for bonuses for teachers who choose to work in troubled schools and to reward those who produce better-performing students.
Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO and the highest-ranking African-American ever in the union, said she believed Mr. McCain converted few in the audience. The AFL-CIO has endorsed Mr. Obama.
"He took the opportunity to, quite frankly, bash workers who are in education, our teachers," she said.
"I do not believe we should be moving toward discounting public education. Public education should be funded adequately.
"Teachers should be compensated adequately so we'd see more people coming into the system to teach."
Last month's Quinnipiac Poll showed Mr. Obama with at least 90 percent support of blacks in the key swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
The same poll, however, suggested Mr. Obama is having trouble with white voters in Ohio and Florida.
Mr. McCain's remarks drew polite applause and some laughter, but some in the crowd stayed in their seats with their arms folded while others rose for standing ovations when Mr. McCain started and completed his speech.
"He's a candidate for president. That's the highest office in this nation. I feel any candidate, I don't care who it is or where he comes from, should come before the NAACP, the largest and oldest civil rights organization in this country," said Yvonne White, president of the Michigan NAACP and a convention delegate.
"It shows whether they care about the minority vote or not," she said.
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