CNN contributor Roland S. Martin advised Democrats to emulate two of their past presidential candidates - Jesse Jackson Sr. and Bobby Kennedy - and play up the issue of poverty, which is a place that he thinks "where candidates can make some kind of headway in trying to appeal to voters beyond the middle class or the upper income voters."
Martin makes regular appearances on CNN’s "American Morning," and besides being a CNN contributor, he is a syndicated columnist and talk radio host. Co-host Kiran Chetry on Thursday’s "American Morning" asked to comment on a recent column in which he advised the Democrats to reach out to poor whites, and to focus their attention on the issue of poverty, particlarly in rural areas. As he did in his column, he gave the examples of Jesse Jackson Sr.’s campaigns in 1984 and 88, as well as Bobby Kennedy’s trip down to the Mississippi Delta region in order to reach out to poor people.
Besides focusing on the issue of poverty, Martin repeated the media’s focus on how people from rural areas use the military as "their only way out" of poverty, and how that is linked to the greater issue of the war in Iraq. He also suggested that "we need to broaden this debate, and go beyond Iraq, go beyond immigration, and say, how can we speak to all Americans? The candidate that does that, I think, has a better shot because they're being more inclusive and speaking to the people who desperately need to be addressed." Even with the Iraq war and terrorism polling at the top of what people consider to be important issues, this is Martin’s advice to Democrats.
Besides giving the Democrats advice, Martin emphasized that the media should use their influence to push Democrats towards the issue of poverty. "And to be honest, Kiran, this is our issue, meaning the media. And I look at the people who are moderating these debates. They need to be asking those questions."
Martin apparently wasn’t only one who invoked the memory of Robert F. Kennedy recently. Chris Matthews compared Barack Obama to the late attorney general on Tuesday.
A full transcript of Kiran Chetry’s interview of Roland S. Martin on Thursday’s "American Morning:"
KIRAN CHETRY: "Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards will be in New York city today. He's speaking about how to eliminate poverty in America. But that's an issue that our next guest says is actually absent for many candidate's platforms. CNN contributor Roland Martin joins me now, and the interview is being simulcast on Roland's radio show. Good to see you this morning, Roland."
ROLAND MARTIN: "I'm glad to be here."
CHETRY: "You wrote a piece in Wednesday's Detroit News, and you said Democrats, if they want to win this election, should think about investing in poor whites. Explain."
MARTIN: "Well, because whenever you talk about the poor, people..."
CHETRY: "It looks like we had a little blip there with Roland. We'll see if we can get him back. In fact, we are going to get him back in a couple of seconds. But first, let's head over to John -- he's back? Okay. He's back. Let's go back to Roland. Sorry about that. You were unceremoniously interrupted."
MARTIN: "That's all right."
CHETRY: "But you said that a candidate who was able to express that this is not just an African-American issue will do well."
MARTIN: "Well, I mean, absolutely. Because you have to speak to the common issues. You know, every time we have these elections, the last three elections, we hear of the NASCAR dad, the soccer mom. We're always trying to go after the suburban voter. And oftentimes, the poor are overlooked. And so the issues critical to them are health care, education, jobs, economic development. And so the candidates should focus on those issues. If you look at these various debates, other than the conversation Soledad O'Brien moderated, poverty has not been an issue. Discussion of the poor has not been an issue, and I believe that's where candidates can make some kind of headway in trying to appeal to voters beyond the middle class or the upper income voters."
CHETRY: "You know, it's interesting that you say that, because when we do these polls to ask what is important to people. We have Iraq at 51%, terrorism at 45%. Education and health care feature prominently at 44 and 43%, but is the presidential election the place where most people think that fighting poverty takes place? Meaning, isn't it more of a community issue for people?"
MARTIN: "Yeah, it is a community issue, but the government plays a role in terms of funding, in terms of various initiatives. We cannot deny that the federal government has a significant role in every aspect of our life. And I think we have to broaden this."
And to be honest, Kiran, this is our issue, meaning the media. And I look at the people who are moderating these debates. They need to be asking those questions. I mean, let's be honest. We know where every candidate stands on Iraq. We know where they stand on terrorism. We know where they stand on immigration. Do we have to recite their stances every single debate? No, I think we need to be able to have a much different conversation and drive the issue.
If I'm a candidate, I'm going down to those rural towns in Alabama or Tennessee. I'm going to West Virginia. I'm doing what, frankly, Reverend Jackson did in '84, '88, shining a light on people who often don't get discussed. We have these debates on college campuses where we have folks who are talking about these highbrow issues. Let's take some of these conversations to those towns where people are really dealing with some of the critical issues. That's what I think a candidate can do to sort of bridge that gap. And the candidate that does that - John Edwards has done it somewhat, but he really hasn't put a face on it - the candidate who does that can give a broader perspective in terms of what a president can do. Who can forget Bobby Kennedy going down to the Delta, bringing the media with him, and seeing conditions that we would often associate with Somalia, or associate with small communities in Colombia. That's what can be done, Kiran.
CHETRY: Yeah, and I mean there's no doubt, and as you also point out, when you say it's not just an urban issue and it's not just a minority issue, when you take a look at these rural towns, where people have no health care whatsoever, and the nearest hospital is miles and miles away. But it seems...
CHETRY: ...that Iraq is really overshadowing some of the other domestic issues when it comes to what people want to hear from their presidential candidate.
MARTIN: And here's how you link it. Many of these individuals who are coming from these small towns, they are coming out of poverty. So, the Army or the Marines, the Navy, the Air Force, that's their only way out. So, to act as if there's no linkage, when you begin to run the names of the soldiers who have died. They're not coming from New York City, or Philadelphia, or Boston, or Houston, or Chicago. No, they're coming from the very small towns. And I just think that we need to broaden this debate, and go beyond Iraq, go beyond immigration, and say, how can we speak to all Americans? The candidate that does that, I think, has a better shot because they're being more inclusive and speaking to the people who desperately need to be addressed.
CHETRY: Roland Martin, always great to talk to you. Thanks for your input today.
MARTIN: I appreciate it. Thanks, Kiran.