Quotes: … George W. Bush goes to church …

“He got right into it,” Lewis said later, adding that he had learned only a few days before that Bush would attend the service. “Our intention was just to provide an environment in which he could be spiritually fed,” Lewis said. “He seemed to be relaxed and fit right in.”

The congregation had not known that the former president and first lady also would be coming, Lewis said. “That was a treat.”

At one point, the pastor called Bush ‘president-elect,’ prompting shouted corrections from his congregation. “Did I miss something?” the pastor deadpanned.

“I did that on purpose, because I’ve heard a lot of jargon about the ‘president-select,’ ” said Lewis, 39.

Although he voted for Al Gore, the pastor added, now Bush is “our president. . . . My team lost. But I’m a team player.”

… in order to have a prayer in 2002.

Bush has a strong incentive to succeed in his effort to repair relations with African Americans: politics.

“Going into 2002, we can’t have 5 to 9 percent of the black vote, said Bill Dal Col, a Republican strategist. “In the Senate, we have 20 Republicans up [for reelection] in minority-heavy states. We need those votes. If it’s not turned around it could definitely impact the Senate.”

Bush’s advisers are confident that he can boost his standing, much as he increased his share of the black vote in Texas from his first to his second election. “Historically, the way this has played out is Republican challengers get very little of the black vote when they win,” said Ralph Reed, an outside adviser to Bush. “But once they’ve won the election, if they’ve done a good job working with the African American community on a few critical issues, whether it’s health care or education or poverty, they are usually able to raise their numbers into the low to mid-20s or even higher.”

Part of Bush’s problem was beyond his control. Black voters strongly backed Bill Clinton and were driven by the improved economy to support his understudy, Vice President Gore. At the same time, tough television ads sponsored by the NAACP and others spread doubt about Bush’s racial record.

Still, several of Bush�s actions, most notably his vigorous use of the death penalty in Texas and his visit to Bob Jones University, worsened the situation. Some recent actions have exacerbated matters, particularly the Ashcroft nomination. “You can’t embrace us and stick a thumb in the eye at the same time,” said Hugh Price, president of the National Urban League.

Even allies say some of Bush’s efforts to improve his standing with African Americans since the election have failed. Robert Woodson, a prominent black conservative, said Bush�s speech before a group of black schoolchildren on Martin Luther King Jr. Day fell flat. “Don’t just go into a school and do nice, fuzzy things. He can�t just have a meeting � he’s got to put some policies in place,” Woodson said. He also said Bush’s naming of black candidates to top posts did little to help. “Republicans can’t get away with symbolism,” Woodson said. Democratic symbolism is more effective, he said, because “Democrats have a history” of support.

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