America's most famous black
Republicans Coming Up Short in Effort to Reach Out to African-American Voters
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
WASHINGTON, July 17 — Even for some Republicans, the notion was hard to take at face value: the Republican Party would make an explicit play for black votes, a strike at the Democratic base and a part of a larger White House plan to achieve long-term Republican dominance.The fact is Watts, who left Congress after being shamed, is right. Until they get serious about opportunity, like changing some of the drug laws and felons getting the franchise back, people aren't going to take it seriously. And they aren't going to do that.
There has been no end to speculation about what the party was up to. Was it simply a ploy to improve the party’s image with moderate white voters? Did the White House see an opportunity to make small though significant changes in the American political system by pulling even a relative few black voters into its corner in important states like Ohio? (Yes, and yes.)
But as Mr. Bush is tentatively scheduled to speak at the N.A.A.C.P. convention in Washington this week — after five years of declining to appear before an organization with which he has had tense relations — it seems fair to say that whatever the motivation, the effort has faltered.
That perception of Republicans as insensitive to racial issues was fed again by the opposition mounted by some House conservatives to an extension of the Voting Rights Act. The House approved the extension last week.
“I have heard Ken Mehlman talk about the Republican Party as the party of Lincoln,” said Bruce S. Gordon, the president of the N.A.A.C.P. “I have not seen that evidence itself as much as Ken would suggest. If the party wishes to reflect the principles of Lincoln, it has a long way to go.”
Coming as the immigration fight on Capitol Hill has undercut Republican efforts to appeal to Hispanic voters, the disappointing results of the outreach to black voters is bad news for a White House that once viewed the 2002 and 2004 elections as a platform to achieve a long-term shift in the balance of power between the two parties. Forcing Democrats to fight to hold on to black voters and Hispanic voters was a crucial part of that strategy.
“I take my hat off to Ken; what he has done is unprecedented in the time I’ve been a Republican,” said J. C. Watts Jr., a former congressman from Oklahoma, who is black. “However, I remain unconvinced that it is in the DNA of our party to get it done. There are just too many things out there that I think Americans of African descent have concerns about.”
Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, who attended Harvard Law School with Mr. Mehlman and who is black, said: “Ken was sincere in wanting to reach out to the African-American community, and it would be a healthy thing if both parties actively competed for the African-American vote. Unfortunately, the agenda of the Republican Party keeps getting in the way of that outreach.”
In an interview, Mr. Mehlman played down the effect of the delay in approving the extension to the Voting Rights Act. He noted that the party had black candidates running in statewide races in four states this fall, and that he always viewed the effort as a long and steady climb.
Lynn Swann, an African-American Republican running for governor in Pennsylvania, argued that his own candidacy showed the extent to which the Republican Party was becoming more diverse and that the debate about the Voting Rights Act extension did not distract from that.
“I don’t think it undercuts it — people make mistakes,” Mr. Swann said. “I think of Senator Al Gore Sr., who is on record for one of the longest filibusters against the Civil Rights Act when it was first initiated. And he’s a Democrat.”
“He was on a roll, but Katrina stopped him in his tracks,” Ms. Brazile said of Mr. Mehlman. “They are eager to tap into the political support of the African-American community, but they don’t have any legs to stand on.”
As evidence of what has become one of the hallmark initiatives of Mr. Mehlman’s chairmanship, his office said he had made 48 visits to African-American audiences since becoming chairman in January 2005. At the same time, Republican strategists have appealed to socially conservative blacks by emphasizing social issues like same-sex marriage.
Mr. Watts, the former Republican congressman, called that a “lame strategy” and said the top concerns of African-American voters were racial and economic issues.
“It’s a little bit insulting to all those pastors out there and people who stand with the party on the social issues,’’ Mr. Watts said, when the party then does “nothing” to help blacks on opportunity issues.
David A. Bositis, senior political analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonpartisan Washington group that studies black issues, said of the Republican effort: “They haven’t had any success. But I thought all along it was never going to be realistic.”
When pushed, the GOP chooses it's white male voter base above all else.
posted by Steve @ 1:23:00 AM