Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Can Black Candidates Win in the GOP?

There were about 30 black Republican candidates running for congressional office going into this year's primary season. Of course all of them won't win. But the Republican Party is having its opportunity to demonstrate that their's really is the party of inclusion.

It's pretty easy to argue that its not happening - not really...

And its a shame. While there are those who consider the Obama Administration a failure, or those who consider his record mixed at best, one would consider this a grand time to demonstrate that the GOP is the party of ideas and access for all Americans.

This isn't all about party officials' unwllingness to support black candidates; its about whether white (as well as black) Republican voters can accept the idea of being represented by a person of color.

"In Alabama, Les Phillip, who made waves with ads saying President Obama ''played with terrorists,'' got crushed by both his white opponents. Even white incumbent Parker Griffith, a former Democrat who switched parties last year, beat Phillip by 17 points. Baptist minister Jerry Grimes lost in North Carolina's 1st district, and Lou Huddleston, who won a Cumberland County North Carolina Republican Party straw poll in February, got walloped in the 8th district. Despite his years of service as an aide to Colin Powell, Huddleston proved no match for Tim D'Annunzio, a businessman who raised money with ''machine gun socials.'' (For $25, supporters got a plate of barbecue and the opportunity to shoot an Uzi.) In Mississippi, Fox News analyst Angela McGlowan, endorsed by none other than the Sarah Palin, lost to both her competitors, catching only 15 percent of the vote."

"There are still dozens more primary elections to come, but, so far, it seems voters in the South are less excited than the news media about 2010's crop of black conservative candidates."

"''It's not surprising that voters didn't support them,'' says Valeria Sinclair-Chapman, a professor at the Center for the Study of African American Politics at the University of Rochester. ''Historically, for white and black Southerners, they've been groomed to see a racial difference, particularly in party politics. Perhaps those lines have been so starkly drawn because of the Southern strategy that came out of the 1960s and was really put into full swing in the 1980s.''"

If it is true that a decades old GOP strategy of triangulating the national electorate around race has aliented black voters and rendered white voters unable to transcend color as a consideration in the the voting booth what is the solution?

Can the 'Grand Old Party' ever give evidence of a 'Brand New Party' tag?

Probably not while it continues to play 'spin the bottle' with the Tea Party and probably not while continues to tout a 'trickle down' economics theory as the key to all of America's economic woes. Nor can it continue to play obstructionist on every issue of significance from health care reform to reform of America's financial industry. And it should be easy for nearly any novice to tell what a 'ship 'em all back' ideology on immigration will do for the Repubs at the ballot box.

Demonizing Obama, will eventually make him a more sympathetic figure in 2012 and an 'I'm agin' it' Republican voting block, should the Party make significant gains in November, will cast Obama as a Truman figure, instead of a reminder of Roosevelt.

If African-American Republicans are to win at the expense of Democrats, they are going to have to be bold enough to be Republican enough to appeal to a predominantly white constituency; but creative and thoughtful enough to attract other black and independent voters.

They need to be really good candidates - not just candidates who know how to parrot the party line. Take Princella Smith, for example, "...A 26-year-old Hill staffer, Smith lost by more than 50 points in Arkansas' 1st district on May 18. In the months before the primary, she'd drawn national hype, even earning an endorsement from her old boss, Newt Gingrich...I came out of a job in D.C. and gave myself three months to run for office. Unless you're extremely well-funded and have a great organization, that's hard.''" Candidates will not only have to have support from Republican officials, they will have to run good smart campaigns and the electorate will have to be willing to view them as viable, smart representatives, not just symbols and not anamolies.

"''I think we obviously have a way to go before we're really competitive,'' says Timothy F. Johnson, chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a black conservative group. ''With a lot of these candidates, their hearts are in the right place, but they really don't understand what it takes to run a successful campaign.''"

They must have a real message. They have to seriously address poverty. They're going to have to talk about what can be done on a public policy level (even if its conservative) as well as preaching to the electorate about what must be done through personal responsibility. It's pretty offensive to listen to someone who has benefitted from public policy initiatives designed to promote equality, either directly or indirectly, talking about how they've pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps! There has to be a real conversation and possiblities proposed for urban neighborhoods: jobs, housing, economic development and education.

They should have a take on the environment that understands that there must be a mix of free market and regulatory solutions. And they must be willing to break ranks with a economic philosophy that suggests that we can avoid a 2008-like economic meltdown by simply tweaking the same system that nearly drove our country (and the rest of the world's economy) off a cliff.

Will these things in and of themselves guarantee victory? Of course not. There's a whole alignment of constallations that include race that will prevent some from winning. Will they pass the test of some GOP purists? Of course not. Just as there are some liberals that have a problem rethinking their politics, there are conservatives that will not admit that this is the 21st century and their old ideas have had their day - and haven't worked.

But if there are enough of them, there will be a group of candidates who will engage the center, help reshape the public debate, and provide enough of an alternative for Democrats to really think about what they are doing.

America's deserve so much better than what they have received so far - from both parties!


Anonymous said...

If the Dems are the party of inclusion then why aren't they supporting Al Greene who won the S.C. Senate primary?

Gerald Britt said...

First of all, this post wasn't about Democratic inclusion of African-American candidates for public office. Whether you like them or not, the ability of black democrats to gain public office for decades is not in doubt.

As for Mr. Greene...seriously?!

Anonymous said...

A better comparison for Obama would be "Jima" Carter. Carter must be relieved to know that he is not the worst president, having passed the title to the totally incompetent Obama