Thursday, November 09, 2006

Issues trump skin color, black voters tell Republicans

(AP) -- Republicans had hoped the midterm election would brand 2006 as the year of the black Republican.

That did not happen.

With high-profile losses in Maryland's Senate race and in contests for governor in Ohio and Pennsylvania, prospects for Republican gains among black voters turned up short this year and gave scant hope for 2008.

Republican Michael Steele, Maryland's lieutenant governor, lost to Democrat Rep. Ben Cardin by almost 10 percent.

Ken Blackwell, a conservative darling who would have been Ohio's first black governor, lost by nearly 24 percent.

And Lynn Swann failed by 21 percent to secure the Pennsylvania governor's office.

The three black Republicans were touted as a new face for the party, which has been perceived as predominantly white for years. But Republicans have vowed -- and continue to vow -- to change that.

"History will show, these candidates represent a new breed of Republican leaders," said Tara Wall of the Republican National Committee. "This is just the beginning."

Wall insisted that the Republicans' sweeping defeats throughout the nation Tuesday would not hinder the party's future efforts to recruit black candidates.

The RNC had scheduled more than 100 outreach events to mobilize black voters, with more anticipated during the 2008 election.

Ron Walters, a former campaign official with Rev. Jesse Jackson and now a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, said Republicans have to identify candidates based on issues, not skin color.

"They have to have positions that are in line with the black community," he said. "If they can't attract the black vote, it won't pay off."

Exit polls showed 88 percent of blacks supported Democrats, about the same level of support as in the last few elections.

More than half were dissatisfied and just over a third were angry with President Bush's administration, figures higher than the general populace.

"The RNC kept talking about them like they (Swann and Steele) were their candidates," said David Bositis, a pollster with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies which, according to its Web site, polls equal numbers of blacks and other Americans on vital issues. "Both of them got the nomination because the Republicans didn't have anyone else."

Meanwhile, black Republican candidates were running in only eight House races, the lowest number since 1990. Democrats fielded 41 black candidates.

"I don't think there was ever anything there," Bositis said. "It was (Republican National Committee Chairman) Ken Mehlman saying, breathlessly, we're doing all these things. .... If you're desperate, you can take whatever you think might work. They were desperate this year."

Republicans did little to help their image among blacks with the ad against Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who sought to replace Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in Tennessee and become the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction.

The Republican National Committee ran one of the cycle's most replayed ads, featuring a bubbly blonde telling Ford to call her.

Critics said the commercial made an implicit appeal to deep-seated racial fears about black men and white women.

Republican Bob Corker defeated Ford by 51 percent to 48 percent.

The National Black Republican Association also sought to highlight racial differences between candidates, airing one ad in Maryland and Ohio that argued, "Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan."

Critics assailed the spot and the group's claim Martin Luther King Jr., was a Republican. NBRA chairwoman Frances Rice said the goal was to boost Republican support among black voters -- something she said polls showed, even if in small increments.

"More blacks are getting off the Democratic Party's plantation and supporting Republicans," Rice said.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the Senate's only black member and a potential 2008 presidential candidate, mocked the Republican effort last week.

"Listen, I think it's great that the Republican Party has discovered black people," Obama told a crowd at predominantly black Bowie State University. "But here's the thing ... You don't vote for somebody because of what they look like. You vote for somebody because of what they stand for."

Mehlman last year apologized for his party's "Southern strategy," once aimed at exploiting voters' frustration with desegregation orders and later evolved to appeal on cultural issues.

"Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization," Mehlman said at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention. "I come here as Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong."

Bush followed up this past summer at the convention, making his first appearance there after skipping for five years.


Brother Afrocan said...

On the other hand, up here, the good ole' rich white folk in Massachusetts voted in former civil-rights enforcer Deval Patrick as the second black Governor ever elected. The first democratic Governor in over 12 years coming off a pretty successful Mitt Romney tenure that may be parlayed into a presidential bid.

Brother Spotless said...

True dat!