DETROIT (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the other Democratic candidates for president lobbied for the African-American vote on Thursday with vows to make sure black votes are fully counted in the 2008 election.
The eight candidates appeared at a forum organized by the NAACP, the country's oldest civil rights organization, in what amounted to something of a political beauty contest as an organist playing merrily between all the talking.
Obama, the Illinois senator who is the only black candidate, was treated to so much applause that Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd could only smile at having the unfortunate position of following him.
"I want to thank the NAACP for allowing me to follow Barack Obama," Dodd said wryly.
Dozens of Obama supporters carried signs and wore campaign bumper stickers on their clothing, standing out in a conference hall of hundreds of NAACP delegates in a downtown Detroit convention hall.
"I know what you know," Obama told the crowd. "Despite all the progress that's been made there's still more to do. There's still more to do when more young black men languish in prison than go to college in America."
Several of the Democrats called for changes to voting practices intended to address lingering concern that some black voters were effectively shut out in 2004 in Ohio.
That followed a disputed 2000 election in Florida that enabled Republican George W. Bush to defeat Democrat Al Gore. Gore's supporters there claimed many black votes went uncounted.
The 2008 candidates called for federal standards for national elections, paper ballots to allow for easier recounts in the event of a future dispute and a restoration of voting rights for felons who have served out prison time.
"If our voting system worked, we would not have had George Bush as president," John Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2004, said to applause.
Blacks represent an important segment of the Democratic base and the candidates courted their support, playing up their connections to the community.
The NAACP invited all of the presidential candidates for the November 2008 election from both parties to come to the forum, but only one Republican, Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, accepted.
Clinton, a Democratic senator from New York, and Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, drew strong applause with pledges to broaden health care coverage to the uninsured and pull American troops out of Iraq.
"Every one of us as Democrats is committed to doing that," Clinton said. "If the president does not end the war in Iraq within his term, I will do it as president."
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said the cost of the war had been disproportionate for black Americans, who have traditionally enlisted in the U.S. military at higher rates.
"De-authorize this war," he said. "Bring the troops home. Bring all of them home."
Clinton leads the other Democrats in national polls with Obama and Edwards generally running second and third among the declared candidates.
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