Yes, I'm very special
Swann part of the rise of black Republicans
Monday, March 06, 2006
By James O'Toole, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Lynn Swann launched his campaign amid the artifacts of the Heinz History Center. Now, the man who would be the state's first African-American governor hopes to reshape the patterns of political history.
On its cross-stae announcement tour, the Swann campaign made its Philadelphia debut not in the city's Republican suburbs, the largest trove of GOP votes in the state, but at the Hope Mission Ministries, a community center in an inner city neighborhood that probably hadn't voted for a Republican in Mr. Swann's lifetime. Aides said the stop demonstrated their ability to challenge Democratic incumbent Ed Rendell for the votes of one of his party's most loyal constituencies.
November's tally will prove that boast accurate or hollow, but already, Mr. Swann's candidacy has helped give life -- if not yet proof -- to the narrative national GOP leaders are trying to present as a new Republican story, a tale of a party unwilling to cede any demographic groups to Democrats, one not content with monochromatic victories.
Tara Wall, the RNC's director of outreach communications, noted that Mr. Mehlman had made minority inclusion a priority of his tenure, meeting with scores of minority audiences across the country, and establishing new training programs for prospective minority candidates. And she pointed out that Mr. Swann, while perhaps the most prominent, is only one of a list of high-profile black candidates appearing on GOP ballots in statewide elections across the country.
In Maryland, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is the GOP's candidate for the U.S. Senate. Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is a candidate for governor. Jennette Bradley, the Ohio state treasurer, is seeking another term in her post. In Michigan, Keith Butler, a Detroit minister, is a candidate for U.S. Senate, and, in New York, Randy Daniels, a former secretary of state, is seeking the GOP nomination to succeed Gov. George Pataki.
Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, agreed with her observation that many younger blacks were more independent than their parents. But he disputed the notion that the trend presaged a long-term drift away from the Democrats.
"You see the more senior African-Americans being more loyal to the Democratic Party," he said. "You do see a younger African-American population that is more independent, a lot more of them register as independents. But when you peel it back to their core issues -- education, housing, jobs -- you see a voting pattern that is more Democratic."
The higher-profile black candidates offer contrasts as well as similarities. Mr. Swann, Mr. Steele and Mr. Blackwell are all social conservatives, strongly anti-abortion. After his lightning march to capture the GOP nomination, Mr. Swann met some stumbling blocks, with the revelation of his spotty voting record and with a lackluster performance in his most high-profile interview to date, an appearance with George Stephanopoulos on ABC.
"No one that I've talked to thinks these [African-American] candidates can attract even anything approaching a majority, but if they can attract even 25 or 35 percent, that would make a crucial difference." said Dr. John Green, the director of the Ray Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.
Mr. Green pointed out that Mr. Blackwell had met or surpassed those levels in his previous statewide races but cautioned that, "When he's been on the ballot before, it's been in a down-ballot race. It's a little bit hard to tell what his experience will be when he runs for the top job."
"If the Republican Party is going to become more appealing and accessible to the minority community, they're going to have to do more than change the faces of their candidates," said Ken Snyder, a Democratic consultant. "They're going to have to actually change their policies, which have been downright hostile to the urban centers where so many African Americans live."
But one Republican strategist argued that any measurable inroad into the Democrats' minority support, even if Mr. Rendell still held onto the bulk of the African-Americans voters, could be fatal to the Democrat's re-election.
"Democrats can't take black votes for granted; African Americans are like any other group. You have to appeal to them on reason and issues, but do I think Swann can get 20 percent or 30 percent? No, I don't think so."
Mr. Green cautioned, however, that this year's roster of black Republican candidates does not signal the attainment of some new critical mass in African-American political allegiance.
"There's an awful lot of talk about the rise of black Republicans; you do see that at the elite levels and that's why it's being written about," he said. "But we don't see much of that [trend] in the broader population. What we need to do watch is to see to what extent Republicans can translate that into the mass level. That's much harder to do; those kinds of changes take a long time."
The Republicans are never going to accomodate the needs of black voters, much less recruit the kinds of candidates with a moral or ethical background which can withstand scrutiny. Swann was embarassed twice, once on ABC and once on Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann's show. He was notoriously unable to answer basic questions and when running against Ed Rendell, the potential disaster could be clear.
Swann cannot avoid hard, detailed questions about the way he would run the state and platitudes will not work.
He can go to all the black churches he wants, but he better have a jobs program to talk about. Unlike Steele and Blackwell, he avoids the charges of Tomism, until he opens his mouth.
There is a certain negative coonotation associated to the GOP which blacks tend to minimize to the wider community. Saying you're a Republican is likely to engender insults and accusations of "wanting to be white".
The reason for that is that the GOP treats black Republicans badly, ignores their concerns and disrepects them. Or they have the most servile kinds of people working for them, people willing to defend their patrons at any cost. Remember how they all ran to defend Bill Bennett? Without character, how can they defend black people?
When black Republicans refused to show up to Tavis Smiley's State of the Black Union, it pretty much exposed them as frauds. And unless Swann can show some independence, he won't get any more black support than any other Republican.
posted by Steve @ 12:27:00 AM