Vice President Al Gore dazzled the NAACP convention that played host to his Republican rival two days earlier, telling a wildly receptive audience yesterday that Gov. George W. Bush of Texas had offered the civil rights organization "nice-sounding words" but no deeds to back them up.
Quoting Scripture and repeatedly sounding the same refrain - "Talk doesn't cost much" - Gore contrasted his own speech, which was peppered with legislative proposals, with Bush's conciliatory but mostly issueless address Monday.
"Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show ye my faith by my works," Gore told the members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Baltimore, citing the Bible chapter and verse.
Whereas Bush, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, had offered an olive branch to a group that has been traditionally hostile to his party, Gore played up all the issues on which the Democratic Party is generally in sync with the NAACP's agenda: urban development, Social Security and Medicare preservation, education funding, affirmative action, health insurance, gun control, AIDS in Africa, an end to racial profiling by police, and an expansion of federal hate crimes laws.
And whereas Bush was folksy and conciliatory, Gore was combative and partisan. He assailed the Texas governor for refusing to back state hate crimes legislation, even after the family of a black man who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck had personally appealed for Bush's backing.
Without mentioning Bush by name, Gore castigated his rival for failing to mention affirmative action while speaking before the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.
And he pointedly reminded NAACP delegates of Bush's refusal to take sides on the dispute over the Confederate flag that until this month flew over the South Carolina State House.
"Talk doesn't cost much," Gore said. "The true test is whether you are willing to take a stand when the Confederate flag is flying over a state capitol and you see that it needs to come down, but you are afraid to speak out."
Gore repeatedly evoked images of the last recession, which fell on the watch of President George Bush, the Texas governor's father, even reprising the last Republican president's broken pledge not to raise taxes.
"I'm not asking you to read my lips," he told an audience that stood and cheered through much of his speech. "I'm asking you to read my heart and watch my feet. Let's make the march that will take us to the mountaintop of justice."
Gore's day in Baltimore took him from the convention center downtown to the renovated American Can Co. complex in Canton to Tide Point on the south side, where developer Bill Struever is converting the former Procter & Gamble plant in Locust Point into a high-technology office park.
At Donna's cafe in Canton, Paul Kustes, a Baltimore dot-com executive, called his mother to tell her he was having lunch at the table next to the vice president. When his mother sounded incredulous, Kustes handed the cell phone to Gore for a surprise chat.
At the former Procter & Gamble plant, the vice president continued his efforts to link the Texas governor to what he has called the "do-nothing-for-the-people Congress," calling on Bush, "the titular head of the Republican Party," to push environmental legislation bottled up in the Senate.
The Clinton administration has embraced "brownfields" legislation that would offer federal tax credits and some legal protection to companies that seek to clean up and revitalize contaminated urban industrial sites.
At the Procter & Gamble site, Gore brandished a 1999 letter written by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to Sen. Michael D. Crapo, promising the Idaho Republican that no such legislation would pass unless it was part of a long-stalled bill to overhaul the federal Superfund program. That Superfund legislation - opposed by Democrats and environmentalists - would extend legal protections to businesses involved in the cleanup of the nation's most contaminated sites.
Yesterday, Bush campaign aides heaped scorn on Gore's efforts to campaign against Congress. They released a mock Gore press release saying the vice president "continued to stress his new campaign themes - emphasizing both that he is not a leader, and that the Clinton-Gore administration has failed to get things done."
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer denounced Gore's speech to the NAACP, saying that Bush had succeeded in improving the academic achievement of minority students in Texas while the Clinton administration had failed to match those improvements nationwide. "Al Gore should explain why his administration broke its promise to close the achievement gap," Fleischer said.
But in the battle for the African-American vote, Gore appeared to win the day. Because of its tax-exempt status, the NAACP cannot endorse specific candidates, but any pretense of nonpartisanship vanished even before Gore's arrival, when board member Bill Lucy warmed up the audience by saying, "Al Gore, unlike a lot of other people, has not just discovered the NAACP." Lucy then introduced the speaker as "the greatest vice president this nation has ever known."
And the audience responded, swaying to the throbbing dance music that accompanied Gore's entrance, straining to shake his hand, laughing at the jokes and standing at the applause lines.
"What people heard from Gore today was what they wanted to hear - his commitment to the issues that address the concerns of African-Americans," said Edward S. Lee of Snow Hill, a vice president of the Maryland NAACP conference. "His opponent failed to do that. This election is going to be about who presses the hot buttons, not just pie in the sky."
Like past Republicans, Bush has fared poorly in polls among African-Americans. But some Democratic lawmakers have been concerned that Gore would fail to ignite the passions of black voters, who might stay home in November. NAACP delegates said yesterday that with his speech, the vice president could begin to capture the kind of African-American support that would draw more black voters to the polls.
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume suggested that Bush might have benefited from his appearance Monday, projecting an appealing image of moderation to white suburban swing voters even if he failed to capture black votes. But Mfume said Gore had succeeded in stepping from behind the shadow of President Clinton, who remains enormously popular with many African-Americans.