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McCain's speech gets cool reception

From NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy
ORLANDO, FL -- Just a day after his campaign accused Obama of playing the race card, McCain appeared at the National Urban League's conference here this afternoon and received a much cooler reception than his appearance last month before the NAACP.

The crowd sat in silence for much of the first half of McCain's prepared remarks before hesitantly clapping when McCain called for school funding to be placed in the control of "the office of the school principal," rather than district or national offices. The audience warmed up when McCain began taking questions, and Urban League President Marc Morial commended McCain's decision to take questions as "unprecedented."

VIDEO: John McCain warns the National Urban League that rival Barack Obama's ideas are not always as impressive as hi rhetoric. Watch his entire speech.

Part of the response could be attributed to McCain's early criticisms of Obama. Unlike his earlier NAACP speech, in which McCain prefaced any criticisms of his opponent with glowing praise, McCain today began to criticize Obama in the second paragraph of his speech -- without any senatorial pleasantries.

"You'll hear from my opponent, Sen. Obama, tomorrow, and if there's one thing he always delivers it's a great speech," McCain said. "But I hope you'll listen carefully, because his ideas are not always as impressive as his rhetoric."

Much of McCain's remarks pertained to education, which he often calls the "civil rights issue of the 21st Century," and he used today's forum to announce his support for the Education Equality Project -- an education opportunity advocacy program that McCain noted was supported by both Al Sharpton and JC Watts.

During the question and answer session, McCain was confronted about his support for an Arizona initiative that would ban affirmative action in the state.

"Affirmative action is in the eye of the beholder," McCain began. "I think the United States of America has reached a point where we should provide equal economic opportunities for all Americans, and I do not and Americans have rejected a quota system. And that, frankly, is something that I don't think helps anyone and has not helped anyone. But I want to assure that I don't believe that any of these initiatives that we're talking about in any way eliminates our abilities to assist small businesses, the economic disadvantaged, and others."

He was also asked about how he would propose to fund public and charter school systems -- specifically the New York City school system that McCain often commends -- without raising taxes, and McCain responded that he had been very appreciative of the impressive philanthropy that has helped New York City schools thus far.

"I'm very grateful for the fact that people like Bill Gates and many others have contributed additional funds to the New York City school system so they can have a leadership program for school principles, for many of the additional extra curricula activities, including the building even of new schools that's taking place," McCain said. "So, I'm not exactly sure which budgetary aspects you're talking about, but one of the things that has been of enormous help is the tremendous charity and generosity of people all over America, not necessarily from New York City that have contributed tens of millions of dollars to make possible this transition that the New York City school system is going through."