The New York Times reports on the burgeoning effort by the GOP to extend its reach into a crucial Democratic demographic. Black Republicans have started to run for offices across the country, a phenomenon that threatens the last bastion of lock-step Democratic voting, and their last hope of recapturing majority status in national elections:
In Maryland, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, black Republicans – all of whom have been groomed by the national party – are expected to run for governor or the United States Senate next year. Several other up-and-coming black Republicans are expected to run for lower statewide offices in Missouri, Ohio, Texas and Vermont in 2006.
It is not clear that local Republican organizations will embrace all of those candidates, and several face primaries. But national Republican leaders have been enthusiastically showcasing those blacks’ campaigns, saying that whether those candidates win or lose, the party can still gain if blacks believe that Republicans are seriously courting their votes.
“You’ve got a Democratic Party which I think has repeatedly demonstrated that it assumes it will win the African-American vote, but doesn’t work for that vote,” Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said. “It takes African-Americans for granted. And I think folks in the African-American community see that. There is a real opportunity here for the Republican Party.”
Mr. Mehlman has been traveling the country raising money for black candidates, speaking at historically black colleges and promoting religion-based programs with black churches. He has created an African-American advisory panel that includes virtually all the statewide black candidates. And he recruited blacks to campaign with President Bush last year, including Mr. Swann, who was co-chairman of African-Americans for Bush National Steering Committee.
Mehlman has worked hard this year to spread the Republican agenda into areas that have traditionally been the most hostile to it. However, after decades of promises from Democrats about Great Society handouts and trillions of dollars spent on welfare, urban renewal, and quotas, the African-American community still finds itself economically and politically isolated from the American mainstream to a large extent. With the GOP holding majorities across the board after their explicit and monolithic opposition, that political isolation is as complete as it has been since the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately, as their leaders have discovered, their bloc support for Democrats put themselves in that position.
Mehlman and the GOP could have easily discounted the African-American community as a result of their lock-step opposition, but instead opted for a long-range strategy of inclusiveness. Republicans have offered what the Democrats cannot — real positions of power within the party, school vouchers for those trapped within the inner-city public school monopoly, and so on. A new generation of black politicians that preach self-reliance and center-right economics have suddenly arisen to counter the handout philosophy of Democrats that have trapped two generations of the poor (not just African-Americans) in the ghettoes.
Given the choice between the same tired agenda that Democrats have used on African-Americans for forty years or a new chance to rise to positions of real power on a national basis, significant numbers of the black community have opened their ears to the GOP. Until the Democrats start rethinking their entire special-interest strategy, where the needs of African-American parents in those inner cities compete against the interests of the teachers, lawyers, and labor unions that feed Democratic troughs, they risk losing their last undisputed base of electoral support.