PHILADELPHIA -- Don King, the wild-haired boxing promoter, is touring the country with Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie to tout President Bush's re-election.
"Only in America," as King often says.
"People understand that George Walker Bush is the man with the plan to make America better," King, sporting an American flag tie and plenty of diamond-encrusted jewelry, told a group of black business leaders at a downtown jazz club Wednesday. "Sometimes, just sometimes, it ain't too bad to be in the Bushes."
The latter line is the flip side of Jesse Jackson's warning at past Democratic conventions for Americans to "stay out of the Bushes."
King's rap sheet makes him an odd choice for Bush front man. He was convicted in the 1967 beating death of a man who owed him money and spent nearly four years in prison. In 1954, he killed a man who was robbing a numbers house he operated in Cleveland, but it was ruled self-defense.
King also has beaten tax evasion and fraud charges, faced numerous lawsuits from boxers and their handlers and endured three grand jury investigations and an FBI sting operation - all while cementing his status as one of the world's top boxing promoters.
Republicans see King as a way to reach the ever-elusive black vote. Bush managed just 9 percent of the black vote in 2000, the worst showing since Republican Barry Goldwater's 6 percent in 1964.
"I said to him, you know they are going to come after us, they are going to attack us, and they are going to try to smear us," Gillespie said Wednesday. "But the fact is, I know the man, he is a friend of mine, and I'm proud to stand with him today."
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tara Wall, who called King a "patriot," said the GOP supports "those who support us. Don King has come out to support us and he supports President George Bush. That's something he chose to do on his own and we're glad to have him."
In May, King attended a Republican fund-raiser in Washington and shook hands with Bush.
King and Gillespie, who began their "Economic Empowerment Tour" in Detroit last week, also plan stops in New York and Miami. The duo was joined in Philadelphia by Miss America 2003 Erika Harold, who is black.
"Where have you see a Republican chairman standing up with us in the heart of the ghetto? We're going to talk about how we can make that change, to educate and uplift and enlighten our people," King told reporters.
The Democratic National Committee avoided commenting on King, instead saying that blacks in the city have been hurt by Bush's economic policies.