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Senate Democrats, CBC Launch Outreach Program With Thursday Summit

Kicking off a series of initiatives showcasing their commitment to a key voting bloc, Senate Democrats pressed the flesh and made sure their presence was known during a summit of black leaders Thursday in the Capitol.

The conference was convened by the Congressional Black Caucus, whose chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), has been meeting with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to discuss how the all-white Senate Democratic Caucus can connect with blacks.

The purpose of the day’s events was to show the approximately 200 local and community leaders assembled “what the Democrats are doing for them and their neighbors,” Cummings said.

Furthermore, it was an opportunity “for us to learn about what they want from us,” he said during the luncheon, which featured D.C. Mayor Tony Williams (D), Daschle, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and others.

It was a chance to bring a “wide variety of leaders together; some of the most dynamic leadership is at the local level,” said freshman Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), a CBC member.

Democratic leaders wanted to convey that Democrats and blacks are on the same side of most issues, Cummings said.

“It’s very important [for there to be] interaction between the Senate and CBC because we’re fighting a lot of the same causes and often they are the front of last resistance,” Davis said.

Daschle tried to drive home the point that unlike Democrats, Republicans are not doing enough to ensure prosperity for all Americans and all neighborhoods.

“I am troubled by an economy that has lost more than 3 million jobs,” he said. “I am troubled that we have the highest unemployment rate in 20 years. I remember a Clinton administration that generated 20 million jobs in eight years,” he said.

Since Republicans hosted a major forum aimed at blacks last month and Senate GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) meets with conservative black leaders and administration officials monthly, Davis said it was important for Democrats to meet with black leaders.

Most blacks believe the Democratic Party is the one most likely to reflect their values, Davis said. Black people do not support Democrats “out of blind loyalty,” he said.

The all-day session focused on issues on which Democrats know they need to have the upper hand in 2004, including education, civil rights, health care, jobs and the economy.

Clinton played a central role throughout the day, trading on her strong ties to the black community that stems in part from the unyielding support her husband enjoyed from that constituency while president. Now, in her role as chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Coordination Committee, Clinton serves as a chief liaison to blacks.

At least one presidential aspirant used the opportunity to forge alliances with leaders who could be instrumental in helping him secure his party’s nomination.

Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) made sure he was acknowledged during introductions and then proceeded to work the crowd.

Notably absent were the two black presidential hopefuls, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (Ill.) and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The fact that they did not receive invitations was not by design, according to CBC spokesman Doug Thornell.

“The whole subject didn’t even come up,” he said, explaining that each CBC member and Senator was allowed to invite two people — of their choosing — from their home state.

Most used the occasion to invite mayors, religious leaders, business executives and elected state officials, according to the attendance sheet.

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