Donald Trump made an impassioned pitch to African American faith voters, calling black churches “the conscience of our country” as he faces an uphill battle among the Democratic-leaning group.
Reading from prepared remarks at the New Spirit Revival Center in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Cleveland, Trump said black churches have inspired Americans “toward a better moral character, a deeper concern for mankind, and a spirit of charity and unity that binds us all together.”
“The African American faith community has been one of God’s greatest gifts to America and to the American people,” he told a largely white audience at the church. “There is perhaps no action our leaders can take that would do more to heal, and I mean heal, our country and support our people than to provide a greater platform— stronger, greater— to the black churches and churchgoers.”
During his speech, Trump said his poll numbers with black voters have been “going like a rocket ship,” although he still struggles with the demographic. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton holds an 83 percentage point lead over Trump among black voters, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released in early September.
His sedate appeals to common faith contrasted with a rather unusual introduction by Don King, a boxing promoter who was convicted of manslaughter and was kicked off the list of speakers at the Republican national convention by GOP Chairman Reince Priebus. Introducing Trump Wednesday morning, he said all voters but “especially black people” need Trump, that “every white woman should cast a vote for Donald Trump” and accidentally said the N-word.
Trump seemed unfazed when he took the stage. “That was so special,” he said of King’s remarks. “He’s an amazing inspiration to so many people, including me.”
Darrell Scott, the pentecostal preacher of the New Spirit Revival Center, preaches what many call the prosperity gospel, which teaches that God wants people to be healthy and wealthy. Controversial Trump surrogate pastor Mark Burns also preached there the Sunday before the Republican National Convention in July.
In his remarks, Trump reiterated his common call to black voters, ‘What do you have to lose.’ “Somehow that resonated,” he said of using the line. “Some people didn’t like it.”
The Republican nominee told the audience he would work to improve inner cities as president and “bring wealth and prosperity and opportunity to those who have not had those opportunities before.” He also answered a question about the recent shooting of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man killed by a white police officer in Tulsa. “To me, it looked like someone who was doing what they were asking him to do,” Trump said. “This young officer, I don’t know what she was thinking. I don’t know what she was thinking. I am very, very troubled by that… We all respect our police greatly, they will just have to get better and better and better.”
Trump concluded his own speech with a passage from 1 John, Chapter 4. “No one has ever seen God. But if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us,” Trump recited, adding, “So true.”
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Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.Rogers@time.com