Tancredo Lone Republican at NAACP

Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo was the only Republican presidential hopeful to take part in a candidate forum this morning at the NAACP national conference in Detroit, Mich. All announced candidates were invited to take part in the forum, which was moderated by Russ Mitchell of CBS and Soledad O’Brien of CNN. As the lone Republican, Tancredo took take the stage by himself to address NAACP members, but the Democratic candidates were a bit more crowded. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Mike Gravel and Chris Dodd gathered on the stage together following Tancredo.

The declining Republicans all cited scheduling conflicts, but it’s clear they don’t think they have much to gain by attending the forum. President Bush received only 11 percent of the African-American vote in 2004. Democrats, on the other hand, have a popular African-American candidate among them and would have some explaining to do if they snubbed the NAACP.From the Detroit Free Press:

“We’re extremely disappointed that we haven’t had any response or confirmations from the rest of the Republicans,” said Richard McIntire, national spokesman for the organization. “We’re the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the country and our members will remember this.”

Giuliani plans to be in Novi on Thursday evening, raising money for the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican caucus of the state House of Representatives at a $1,000-per-person dinner. But campaign officials said he’s not flying into Michigan until Thursday afternoon.

Campaign officials for Romney said he has other commitments, although he has no public appearances scheduled.

But will it pay off for Republicans to ignore groups that traditionally vote Democratic? Susan Milligan of the Boston Globe says no:

While it might make sense for certain candidates to avoid very issue-specific audiences — an antiabortion candidate might just as well skip a pro-abortion rights convention, for example — most candidates could earn votes and respect by showing up at other presidential candidate forums.

Tancredo needs all the votes he can get, and because of  his anti-immigration views he’s often subject to charges of racism. Appearing at the NAACP forum could improve that image. But there’s another reason Tancredo benefits from attending the forum as the sole Republican. It gets him news stories like this one from MSNBC:

The NAACP has set up placards for all of the Republican 08 candidates at each podium — highlighting the no-shows except for Tancredo.

Tancredo got strong applause. He laughed at the empty podiums and took a mild shot at his Republican opponents. “This is my kind of debate,” he said. “Do I know something they don’t know? No, I think I know something they don’t know.”

Tancredo said proponents of immigration reform have “the audacity to call ‘amnesty’ the modern day civil rights movement.” He earned big applause for saying “There is no comparison” between the two movements. Is he banking on black Americans’ concern over jobs lost to illegals trumping the elements of common experience between the Hispanic and black communities? And is he trying to play on the tensions between some blacks and Hispanics highlighted in cities like Los Angeles and Houston?

He then closed with a two-minute statement, including an anecdote highlighting what he said whites and blacks have in common — a language.

He recalled a story of a white woman looking for crew socks in a store who could not find anyone who spoke English. She finally found a black woman who helped her. The black woman said, “I always knew something was going to bring us together. Who would have thought it was going to be a language?”