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November 9, 2006
GOP Outreach To Black Community Needs More Work

One of the apparent defeats from the midterm results came in response to the Republican effort to field black candidates for significant offices. Those candidates lost in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and it shows that the GOP has to work more to make inroads into a community with a lot of distrust for them:

Memo to Republican chief Ken Mehlman regarding recruiting black candidates: Try again.

Republicans had hoped to brand 2006 as the year of the black Republican. But with high-profile failures in Maryland’s Senate race and in governor contests in Ohio and Pennsylvania, prospects for GOP gains among black voters turned up short this year and gave scant hope for 2008.

Michael Steele, Maryland’s lieutenant governor, lost by almost 10 percentage points to Rep. Ben Cardin. Ken Blackwell, a conservative darling who would have been Ohio’s first black governor, lost by almost 24 percentage points; Lynn Swann lost his bid for the Pennsylvania governor’s office by 21 percentage points.

Each race had its own difficulties. Blackwell lost in Ohio because of the prevailing anger against the state party, thanks to a series of scandals that had Buckeye voters looking for fresh faces. Lynn Swann ran against Ed Rendell, a highly experienced pol who dismantled Swann's neophyte efforts in a state that has turned increasingly blue over the past few years. Michael Steele faced an uphill task at best in a state where registered Democrats have a more than 2-1 numeric advantage over Republicans, in a year where Republicans took a beating. Under those circumstances, a ten-point loss doesn't look so bad.

The AP's story suggests that the GOP looked for black skin rather than addressing black issues. That's certainly not the case for Steele and Blackwell, both of whom had already won statewide office before 2006. The two men had proven themselves capable politicians and under normal circumstances at least had a shot at winning. With Lynn Swann, one of my favorite football players of all time, it might have been better to start him in a Congressional race instead of an executive office. On the other hand, Rendell was probably unbeatable anyway, and Swann gained some good experience for his next campaign.

They are right in one aspect. Republicans need to make the concepts of smaller government and fiscal discipline more relevant to the black community. The Bush administration missed that chance when they dropped school vouchers from the education reform they passed in the opening months. Freeing underprivileged students from failing schools and ending the educational monopoly may have given the GOP an entree to black votes, or at least consideration at the polls. Until the Republicans can articulate how their governing philosophy can make life better in the urban areas, those voters will remain diffident to GOP entreaties, no matter who makes them.

However, the AP's recipe is one that the GOP should follow. Republicans should keep trying to engage the black community in positive ways, and fielding candidates is one of those ways. Michael Steele may become the Republican national chairman, replacing the excellent Ken Mehlman, if he decides to step down. That would be a great move by the GOP, and it would show a continued commitment to giving millions of American voters a choice.

So, yes. Keep trying, even if it doesn't result in immediate success. It's not just smart politics, it's the right thing to do.

UPDATE: Let me be clear -- I'm not talking about "pandering" to anyone. I believe that fiscal conservatism, limited government, and enabling private investment to flow freely to small business helps the black community, and Republicans need to make that message relevant to those voters. It's not about pandering, it's about engagement -- actually talking and campaigning, rather than writing off millions of Americans as a lost political cause. It's also about listening, which Mehlman started to do, and which Steele should continue if he takes Mehlman's spot.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 9, 2006 5:23 AM

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