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President Trump's statements and actions have put race at the center of the 2020 campaign. Some Democrats want to focus on health care or economic inequality. But older civil rights activists, a major force in the Democratic Party, want a candidate who will confront Trump on race. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid has the story.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Linda Long (ph) lives in Alabama, and she's seen a lot in her 70 years. But she says she's never seen a president incite racial fears like President Trump.
LINDA LONG: I've never seen it this bad. I mean...
KHALID: You've never seen it this bad?
LONG: Never seen anyone that's in a place of authority - and I'm going to say in the White House - that seems to create animosities among people rather than trying to unite people.
KHALID: I met Long in Detroit this week at the annual edible NAACP conference. She told me it feels like the country is sliding backwards.
KEITH BODDEN: I think we're in the second Reconstruction.
KHALID: Reconstruction, like what happened after the Civil War. And that's Keith Bodden (ph), an 82-year-old from New Jersey. I met him as he ate breakfast while waiting to hear from a slate of presidential candidates. He is impressed with some of them, but he's also disappointed they have not used stronger language to confront President Trump.
BODDEN: Shame. Thumbs down. No one at this point have come forward to say I'm running against slimeball Trump.
KHALID: Reverend Al Sharpton told me he also wants to hear the candidates be more explicit.
AL SHARPTON: I've not heard them aggressively come on and say, one, that he's using race, two, he's a racist and, three, this is what I will do.
KHALID: Sharpton says Trump will try to mobilize voters based on racial fear, and if Democrats want to win, they cannot shy away from a conversation on race just because it's uncomfortable. This week, the NAACP unanimously voted to support the impeachment of President Trump. Arthur Fleming from Dallas is one of those NAACP members. Fleming says Democrats need to realize we are not living in normal times, and if they do that, they could unite the country.
ARTHUR FLEMING: Now uniting the country don't mean that all the racists that support him is finna (ph) turn not racist.
KHALID: Uniting the country sounds kind of basic, but it was probably one of the most common things I heard among these activists. They want a president who sees them as full Americans, and they don't feel they have that right now. But for Fleming, dealing with racism in this country is not just a moral obligation.
FLEMING: Racism - it's a national security issue.
KHALID: A national security issue. He says look at the ads Russia put on social media in the 2016 election.
FLEMING: There are bots playing that - the African American community. So what does that tell you? It tells you that they know where the divide is.
KHALID: Former Vice President Joe Biden told a largely African American crowd at the National Urban League conference in Indianapolis yesterday that we are in a battle for the soul of the nation. It's the main theme of his campaign and a message that resonates with some of these activists along with criminal justice reform and housing. Marc Morial leads the National Urban League.
MARC MORIAL: It's not the racial conversation around issues alone. It's the movement of America to becoming a much more racially diverse country and America becoming a nation that doesn't have a dominant, by population or by numbers, racial group.
KHALID: Even though these changes may be politically challenging, Morial sees a big upside. He says Democratic candidates are engaging with black voters more than they ever have before. Asma Khalid, NPR News, Indianapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.