Former Texas Governor Rick Perry zinged President Obama on Thursday by saying he has presided over increased poverty among black families during his six and a half years in office.
"I'm proud to live in a country that has an African-American president, but President Obama cannot be proud of the fact that the prevalence of black poverty has actually increased under his leadership," Perry said in a Washington, D.C., address at the National Press Club.
While Obama has said racial tensions and race-based violence still exists in America, Perry said the country has made immense progress on these issues over the years.
"When it comes to race, America is a better and more tolerant and welcoming place than it has ever been before," Perry said. "We're a country with Hispanic CEOs, Asian billionaires and a black president. So why is it that so many black families feel left behind?"
So far, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has gotten the most attention as a Republican trying to reach out to black voters. But Perry made an attempt in his remarks by saying it's time for Republicans to stop assuming the black vote can't be won.
As one of 14 Republicans already running for president, Perry's focus on black poverty seemed designed to separate him from the pack, which he acknowledged when he thanked the Press Club for the opportunity to differentiate himself from the other candidates.
"I'm running for president because I want to be president for all people, even those that don't vote Republican," Perry said. "For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we didn't need it to win."
By discounting the black vote, he added, Republicans had lost legitimacy as the party of Abraham Lincoln. He put forward two specific policy proposals for welfare reform that he said he would seek to enact as president, including expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and block grants that would allow individual states to create their own safety net.
"We cannot dismiss the historical legacy of slavery, nor its role in causing the problem of black poverty," Perry said. "And because slavery and segregation were sanctioned by government, there is a role for government policy in addressing their lasting effects."
If his economic vision for America succeeds, he said, "[W]e will have done more for African Americans than the last three Democratic presidents combined."
Perry served three terms as governor, and oversaw the Lone Star state's vast economic expansion during his tenure as governor. Since 2000, the National Press Club noted, Texas has created almost one-third of all new private sector jobs.