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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Angling for Black Votes Short on Substance

In The Sunday Guardian/Observer, Paul Harris has an update on GOP efforts to get a larger slice of the African American vote in the November elections. Harris’s article “Desperate Republicans Chase the Black Vote” offers no statistics to indicate they are making any significant headway, but he sees GOP hopes riding on three high-profile candidates:

Republican hopes are placed firmly on three political races, two of them in the key battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. In Ohio, Kenneth Blackwell is the black Republican candidate for state governor, while in Maryland Michael Steele is aiming to capture one of the state’s senate seats. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann is campaigning for the governorship.

All of the above face tough Democratic opposition. Moreover, the limp rationale of the Republicans’ national and local appeal, as dilineated by Harris, is unlikely to generate much excitement in African American communities:

They hope that socially conservative ideas pushed by Bush on issues such as limiting abortion and opposing same-sex marriages will appeal to many traditional black voters. They are also hoping to capitalise on the aspirations of a growing black middle class with its concepts of an ‘ownership society’ breaking free from government help and handouts.

It seems highly doubtful that such appeals won many votes for the GOP in the last election. And Republicans will have their hands full trying to offset the damage done by Bush’s late and still-weak response on behalf of the victims of Hurrican Katrina, especially the indelible images of African Americans left stranded for days in horrific conditions while the Administration dithered. If Republicans had any real chance of posting significant gains a year ago, they have been all but drowned in Katrina’s floodwaters. As pollster John Zogby observes “There was a huge opportunity for Republicans before that, but afterwards it had undone all their work.”
The GOP has a daunting enough challenge shoring up its own rapidly-deteriorating base. Whatever miniscule gains they may make in winning African American votes will probably be offset by fed-up Republicans staying at home in November and crossing over to vote for Democrats.
Democrats, on the other hand, have a clear opportunity to increase their votes from Black Americans, especially if they provide a greater investment in voter registration and turnout in predominantly African American communities.