Detroit Republicans Reach Out to Black Voters in the Motor City

Hillary Clinton might turn out to be the worst thing that could happen to Democrats in Detroit.

Wayne Bradley, an African-American who has been running the Detroit GOP office since it opened to an Al Sharpton-orchestrated protest a couple of years ago, told PJM Detroit’s black community is hardly “enthralled” with the former first lady.

And if, as expected, Clinton turns out to be the Democrats’ candidate, where else will black voters turn but to the Republican side of the ballot?

At the very least, Bradley predicts Republicans will do much better in Detroit than they have in past presidential elections.

Of course, that isn’t saying much.

President Obama won Detroit easily in 2008. He captured 97.5 percent of the African-American vote in the city that is more than 82 percent black. Mitt Romney did a little better for the Republicans in Detroit. However, he only captured 6 percent of the African-American vote in 2012.

Still, that is progress, right?

As optimistic as Bradley sounds, he doesn’t want to come off like a Detroit Lions fan who always figures next year is going to be The Year. But like that Lions fan, Bradley knows his team has nowhere to go but up.

Given the demographics of Detroit, Bradley is also aware the GOP is obviously going to either get the votes of African-Americans who don’t usually go to the polls, or change the minds of those who, for generations, have voted Democratic.

Bradley is the first to admit neither task will be easy. But he cited “consistent progress” in the past two years of pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, and trying to change voting habits.

The national GOP warned itself after the 2012 debacle that Republicans have a lot to prove to voters of color.

“If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity,” the authors of the report wrote.

And that is what Bradley has been trying to do for the past two years.

“We are trying to build trust and dialogue in the community,” Bradley said. “Not too long ago it would have been hard to invite the NAACP and the Michigan Black Chamber to a Republican function.”

But he has done it. And those functions to which Bradley has invited groups like the NAACP have given African-American community leaders instant access to top state Republicans like Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette.

This is Bradley’s neighborhood. He grew up one block away from the Detroit GOP office and comes from a family involved in city politics.

Because of the changes in the attitudes of his lifelong neighbors, Bradley said the GOP will able to do better than its historic single-digit percentage share of the vote in Detroit.

“Voters just want to know that we are concerned about their concerns,” he said.

Yet, Bradley and his hardy band of Republicans in Detroit do not have history on their side. For decades, it has been the Democrats who have dominated the Motor City.

Matt Grossman, a Michigan State University associate professor of political science, told PJM that despite Bradley’s best efforts the GOP will have trouble increasing its share of the African-American vote in Detroit in the 2016 election.

However, Grossman said all is not lost for Republicans in the city that became a poster municipality for economic disorder, political chaos and, during the mayoral reign of Democrat Kwame Kilpatrick, rampant corruption.

The Republicans might not be able to ride the black vote to victory in Detroit this year, but they do have another option. Grossman said the Michigan GOP should not forget the city’s immigrant population: people who don’t have the same history in Detroit as African-Americans.

No, he is not talking about the immigrants you are thinking of. He is not talking about Mexico, China, Latvia or Syria.

Grossman is talking about the suburbs.

Grossman said the GOP should go after an immigrant population that is totally documented, totally educated, and for the most part young and white. They are urban pioneers: students, doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs who have migrated into the city where municipal firefighters once had to beg for toilet paper in their fire stations.

“There is now a younger and whiter audience in Detroit that Republicans have a better chance of reaching,” said Grossman. “So with or without an extra effort the GOP could see an increased share of the vote in Detroit.”

“Even if they don’t win the African-American vote, the effort made by the Republicans might matter to other minority voters or even white voters concerned about being in a (political) party that is all white,” he added.

None of Bradley’s work on the ground or Grossman’s analysis worries Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon any more than the Lions are going to scare Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Dillon told PJM he doesn’t think the GOP has any chance beyond slim to none in the Motor City.

“They can build the Taj Mahal in the city of Detroit, but until the party actually starts talking about policies that can improve the lot of the people in Detroit they aren’t going to do any better,” he said.

Bradley said the Democrats are the last party that should be lampooning the two-year anniversary of the Detroit GOP office, which was celebrated by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Michigan GOP Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel on Nov. 3.

After all, he maintained, it was Gov. Rick Snyder’s imposition of a state-appointed emergency manager and attention to the Detroit business community that brought the Motor City back from the largest bankruptcy in U.S. municipal history.

“I’d challenge Mr. Dillon by asking him, ‘what have you built here?’” said Bradley. “You’ve done nothing but take folks for granted and then show up here in September and tell them to vote for whoever the Democrat is regardless of the issues.”

Be that as it may, Dillon argued the GOP’s biggest problem in the 2016 presidential election will be what its candidates for president have been saying before the first primary election is held.

“They are actively bashing immigrants, talking about more restrictive voter ID laws, they don’t support equal pay for women, many of them don’t support the minimum wage and many of them are actively trying to diminish the power of unions, which is very important to the people of Detroit,” said Dillon.

“It’s really window dressing for a party that has no idea how to appeal to working-class and middle-class voters in urban communities,” he stressed.

Dillon doesn’t think even Ben Carson, if he does get the presidential nomination, will help the GOP capture more of the African-American Detroit vote, despite the fact that the neurosurgeon was born in Detroit and is black.

“This is someone I have never heard a Democrat in the city of Detroit agree with,” said Dillon. “He is appealing to a very conservative, right-wing base to try to get through the primary. People will remember that when it is time to vote in November.”

That could be true, Bradley admitted.

But after spending two years talking politics with his neighbors, Bradley said he knows one thing for sure: Black Detroiters don’t want Hillary.

“They are looking for other options,” he said, “and that is the most important thing. They are looking for other options besides Hillary Clinton.”