How the GOP Can Court Black Voters
But there is a difference between followers and leaders. And for Republican leaders there is more at play than simple guilt-baiting. Republicans have been patiently working to win over some of the 90% of black voters who regularly pull the Democratic lever. This process started with the presidency of George H.W. Bush and his 1989 appointment of Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The election of J.C. Watts to Congress from Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District, 1994-2002, was another step.
George W. Bush furthered the process by appointing first Colin Powell and then Condi Rice as secretary of state and Rod Paige as secretary of education. In 2006 Republicans backed Lt. Gov. Michael Steele for U.S. Senate from Maryland, Lynn Swann for governor of Pennsylvania, and Ken Blackwell for governor of Ohio. Keith Butler sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate from Michigan. All lost but it was the strongest field of black Republicans to run since Reconstruction.
Working to seek voters among a 90% Democrat community may seem an exercise in Republican futility, but in a democracy, it is an inherently unstable arrangement for 90% of any electorate to consistently vote one way. Black voters tip the balance in favor of Democrats in Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland. Republicans need only gain 20-30% of the black vote to dramatically shift the balance of power in some or all of these states.
In January and February, as Bill Clinton campaigned for Hillary in New Hampshire and South Carolina, conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh recognized the opportunity to win away black voters. They highlighted Bill Clinton's every racially tinged word until he was practically chased from the campaign trail.
Sensing the risk, leading Democrats such as Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) suddenly shifted their support to Obama and helped him build up what would become an insurmountable delegate lead. The switch of the majority of black voters from Republican to Democrat is the legacy of John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign. Ted Kennedy did not want that legacy burned in the fire of the Clintons' ambition.
Could 2008 be remembered as a "blow-off top" in dependency politics? The election of a black person as president undermines the key argument for black reliance on Democrat handouts and race-based programs -- that racism is the factor which most severely limits black achievement. It is more difficult to assert the belief -- very common in black communities -- that blacks are not allowed to rise to the highest levels of their chosen professions.
Will black voters respond to the election of Obama by rewarding future Democrat candidates with even more votes? At 90%, there is not much upside. It is unlikely that any Democrat will be able to generate the same black turnout as Obama. Or will some black voters take this as a signal to choose the party of opportunity and begin the process of walking away from the high costs imposed on them by the party of dependency?
Michael Steele is now seeking the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. Keith Butler is the Republican national committeeman from Michigan. And Ken Blackwell is the RNC platform committee vice chair. Contrary to those who call for Republicans to become more liberal in order to win over black voters, all are committed conservatives.
There are other signs of a shifting tide. In the midst of the Obama win, exit polls indicate that Indiana's innovative conservative governor, and former Hudson Institute CEO, Mitch Daniels polled 20% of the black vote in his successful reelection bid -- even as Obama became the first Democrat to win the state since 1964.
If Republicans can learn to replicate Daniels' victory -- and elect more people like J.C. Watts -- America's sociopolitical landscape would shift in ways we can only begin to imagine.