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The Washington Times notes that GOP chairman Ken Mehlman continues to perform quietly (in relation to Howard Dean) but effectively in his outreach towards the African-American community. In a sign of increasing success, Mehlman's efforts resulted in the conversion of a key Pennsylvanian politician, touching off concern at the national level for Democrats:
City Councilman Otto Banks, the biggest vote-getter in Harrisburg, Pa., held a campaign fundraiser in the Pennsylvania state capital Friday with the help of Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman that sent new fears rippling through Democratic ranks.
Mr. Banks, 33, a political newcomer, stunned Harrisburg's black community when he left the Democratic Party in March to become a Republican, starting what Mr. Mehlman and other Republican officials say they hope will become a realignment trend that will consign the Democrats to permanent minority status.
Mr. Mehlman said Friday that he met with Mr. Banks before the party switch and promised that if he joined the Republicans, "I would go up to Harrisburg and help him raise money for his campaign. This is a priority of mine, to bring more African-Americans into the party of Lincoln. I'm committed to doing it in many ways."
The crowd of 60 or so who attended the buffet breakfast, which featured Mr. Mehlman and raised $22,000, included many of Mr. Banks' black supporters, among them clergymen. "It was a very racially diverse group of people, about half white and half African-American," said Josh Wilson, the state Republican Party's communications director.
Mr. Banks was little-known outside Harrisburg before he joined the Republican Party. But that switch, and Mr. Mehlman's high-profile role in his re-election campaign, have deepened concerns among Democratic leaders such as campaign strategist Donna Brazile, who worry that they are losing their base.
This could quite easily be painted as two party chairs going in different directions, on several levels. Howard Dean this weekend wound up getting ripped by Barney Franks, hardly a Blue Dog Democrat, for his startling rhetoric that Tom DeLay should go back to Houston to start serving a jail sentence -- when DeLay hasn't even been alleged to have committed a crime. Dean has done little to appeal to anyone outside of his lunatic-fringe Leftist base of International ANSWER and MoveOn fanatics, ignoring calls from Democrat politicos like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton that the party needs to address the center.
Meanwhile, Mehlman wisely moves towards engagement with the most lock-step of the Democratic factions, the African-American community. Not only has he opened dialogues with moderate leaders in the community, highlighting school choice, free-enterprise zones, crime reduction, and other key issues that the Democrats have declared anathema due to union commitments. Mehlman's conversion of Banks demonstrates what a party chair should spend his time doing: party building instead of foot chewing.
The GOP would like nothing more than to make significant inroads with African-Americans, and the result would be better for everyone. The GOP holds power now with little or no help from the black community, which puts it at a political disadvantage that they have not known in decades. The communities themselves recognize belatedly the problem of putting all their eggs into the one Democratic basket, even if most of their so-called political leadership hasn't as yet. Having siginificant support from these communities would require the GOP to put new leaders in positions of power -- which they have shown a willingness to do -- that would exercise a strong influence on GOP priorities and messages.
It would also, as Donna Brazile frets, create a huge problem for the Democrats in national elections. The Democrats cannot survive the defection of more than 15% of the African-American vote in presidential elections or even in upcoming Senate races. In Pennsylvania especially, the GOP plans to re-elect Rick Santorum in 2006, which looks somewhat shaky as the Keystone state went blue in 2004. However, with the Republicans possibly fielding former Steeler superstar Lynn Swann for governor and converting power players like Otto Banks in Harrisburg, the Republican prospects might brighten considerably -- and in 2008 might be enough to turn Pennsylvania red in 2008, a disaster for the eventual Democratic ticket.
So far, in the case of Mehlman vs Dean, the unknown challenger continues to eat the champion's lunch. Let's keep that to ourselves, shall we?Sphere It View blog reactions
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