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McCain addresses NAACP

From NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy

CINCINNATI, OH -- After rejecting an invitation to appear before last year's NAACP convention when running in a crowded GOP primary field, McCain today accepted the group's invitation this year as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Focusing his speech mostly on education, McCain pledged his support for school choice and for increased funding to the country's failing schools.

But first, he went above and beyond normal pleasantries in praising his Democratic opponent for making history. "Don't tell him I said this, but he is an impressive fellow in many ways," McCain said of Obama. "He has inspired a great many Americans, some of whom had wrongly believed that a political campaign could hold no purpose or meaning for them. His success should make Americans, all Americans, proud. Of course, I would prefer his success not continue quite as long as he hopes."

VIDEO: Republican presidential nominee John McCain praised Barack Obama's groundbreaking presidential run, while laying out his plans for public education, the economy and civil rights to members of the NAACP.

In emphasizing his support for education, McCain proposed allocating existing federal dollars for a new push towards online education. That would include $500 million to build "new virtual schools and to support the development of online courses," along with $250 million "to support state programs expanding online education opportunities."

As he did earlier this week during his appearance before the largely unfriendly audience at the National Council of La Raza in San Diego, McCain took some contentious questions from the crowd today about the Republican approach to education in recent years.

During a back-and-forth with a teacher in the audience, McCain expressed his support for the Head Start program, but said he would only commit to fund it if the program committed to allowing increased federal oversight. He also committed to fully funding No Child Left Behind, something he had hesitated to do in the past.

"I will fully fund those programs, but No Child Left Behind has to be fixed," McCain said. "It was a good beginning. It should not be scrapped in my view."

He concluded his prepared remarks with a pledge to listen to the concerns of the NAACP, even if he was not able to win their votes.

"I am a candidate for president who seeks your vote and hopes to earn it," McCain said. "But whether or not I win your support, I need your goodwill and your counsel. And should I succeed, I'll need it all the more."