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Black Republican candidates for the United States Senate

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted March 20, 2006

Republican National Chairman Kenneth B. Mehlman has gone out of his way to tell the Black community that it should not be taken for granted by Democrats but should give Republicans a second look. He cites various Republican initiatives, such as school choice, the No Child Left Behind measure and President George W. Bush's ownership society, as reasons for Black reconsideration.

I am convinced that Mehlman is sincere in not only wanting to see Blacks vote for Republicans but to see Black Republican candidates elected as well.

The game on the ground is very different, however. In two races the White Republican establishment is doing everything in its power to frustrate the Black candidate. In a third race the Party establishment has cleared the way for the Black candidate. In a fourth race only a Governor's strong support has caused the Black candidate to be in a reasonable position.

Reverend Keith A. ButlerIn Michigan the Reverend Keith A. Butler had worked tirelessly and had the Republican Senate nomination all but locked up. The other candidates had dropped out. Butler now could concentrate on Senator Deborah A. Stabenow (D-MI), the incumbent.

Then came word that Senator Elizabeth H. Dole (R-NC), the Chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, did not think Butler could win. So not only did she twist the arm of a sheriff of a populous country to jump back into the race which he earlier had abandoned but her minions were systematically contacting Michigan state legislators who had endorsed Butler to drop him in favor of his primary opposition.

Butler is a remarkable candidate. Not only was he the first Republican since the Roaring 20s to be elected as a conservative Republican to the Detroit City Council but he won an at-large seat, meaning he had carried a citywide vote. He left at the end of his four-year term because the minds of the others on the Council, usually the favorites of the very far-left Mayors Detroit has had, were absolutely closed to new ideas. They didn't even want to hear about different approaches to solving the City's monumental problems. In their view money would solve everything and there never was enough of it. Butler is an innovator and in his mission he has fed and clothed tens of thousands of the poorest residents of Michigan without government assistance. Many of these he has helped find good jobs and lead stable lives.

What has Washington forced Keith Butler to do? He must raise several million dollars to run a late primary. The victor coming out of that primary necessarily will be weakened and will have a tough job raising the many millions required to defeat an incumbent Democratic Senator, especially one who seemingly has strengthened her position in recent weeks.

If Washington had just left well enough alone, I believe that Butler would have pulled off the surprise election of 2006. Now it doesn't look as good and that is the fault of the White Republican establishment, which welcomes candidates like Butler with one hand and stabs them in the back with the other.

Not far away in Ohio is another industrialized State which has lost numerous jobs in the past few years. Ohio won re-election for President Bush. If only another 60,000 Ohioans had voted for Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) we would be saying President Kerry today. What caused the Bush victory was the presence of the Marriage Amendment on the ballot. So many more voters turned out to vote for the Marriage Amendment that there was a spill-off for the President. His Black vote went way up, especially in Northern Ohio, the consequence of Bush's having supported the Marriage Amendment while Kerry opposed it.

In Ohio both Senators Mike DeWine and George V. Voinovich opposed the Marriage Amendment. Scandal-ridden Governor Robert A. Taft, II also opposed it, as did down-ticket officeholders, such as the Attorney General and the State Treasurer. Only one statewide elected official supported the Marriage Amendment and that was Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. He helped to get it on the ballot and campaigned for it as if his own election were at stake. Not only that, liberals were furious that Bush, in their view, had stolen the election from them and they threw the book at Blackwell. Nearly 150 allegations of voter fraud were made, claiming that Blackwell, himself a Black, suppressed the Black vote. He handled all of these charges brilliantly and all were dismissed.

Governor Taft and the entire Ohio Republican Party is in a state of collapse. The only statewide candidate who has been head and shoulders above the scandals and who also supported the Marriage Amendment is Blackwell. (The Marriage Amendment received 500,000 more votes than the Bush margin of victory.) In Blackwell's last run for Secretary of State he attracted almost fifty percent of the Black vote in Ohio.

With all that background, it would be reasonable to conclude that the Ohio Republican Party would be thanking Blackwell. Not so. The Party leadership has recruited a formidable candidate to run against him, who is being cheered on by Washington. Blackwell is ahead but not so far ahead to assure his nomination. The Democrats believe they can win Ohio for the first time in decades so they have a strong, virtually unopposed, candidate.

In Ohio Republicans play dirty. While Blackwell is ahead now, no doubt he will be roughed up by a party whose key players would rather control the wreckage than to win with a candidate they can't control. There is a good chance that if Blackwell won the primary and were a strong candidate in the general election, those he had defeated would not support him so he could be done in by so-called moderate Republicans.

Lynn C. SwannIn Pennsylvania the GOP has set out the welcome mat for former football great Lynn C. Swann. The presumed GOP nominee before Swann got into the race was former Lieutenant Governor William W. Scranton, Jr. Following a poll which showed that Governor Edward G. Rendell could be defeated and that Swann was in a little better position to do so Scranton and lesser known candidates dropped out, giving Swann an open field. It does appear that the entire Party will be behind him.

Swann has a disadvantage. Unlike both Butler and Blackwell, Swann has not been deeply involved in all aspects of Pennsylvania problems. Thus, he must catch up. Many of his answers to media questions have been vague and in many ways unresponsive. In addition, Rendell was Mayor of Philadelphia, where he remains popular. President Bush, in his first term, visited Pennsylvania more often than any other state. Yet he lost Pennsylvania by a larger margin than when he first ran. Rendell influences many votes and it would take a strong showing in Central and Western Pennsylvania to overcome what the Governor can produce.

To some veteran reporters this campaign looks the reverse of California in 1964 when Senator Pierre E.G. Salinger, considered a shoo-in, ran against the actor George L. Murphy. Murphy had so informed himself about California water, development and transportation problems that when he debated Salinger on statewide television he blew Salinger away. Observers think Rendell, who no doubt is an expert on Pennsylvania's problems, might blow Swann away when they debate closer to the election. It will be no easy victory for Swann if he does win but at least he doesn't have to fight against the White Republican establishment in the process.

Finally Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael S. Steele is the GOP candidate for the Senate. The Republican establishment in parts of the State is not happy about this turn of events. But Governor Robert L. Ehrlich let it be known that if Steele decided to go for the Senate rather than running for a second term with Ehrlich the Governor would move heaven and earth to give Steele a chance. We still hear grumbling about Steele as a candidate and stories are leaked about his supposed incompetent campaign, clearly from Republican sources.

Steele is thought to have one shot at the Senate from this deep Blue State, if former Congressman Kweisi Mfume were the Democratic nominee. That would pit one Black candidate against another and would allow Steele to split the Black vote. If, as expected, Steele must run against Representative Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) it would be all uphill for Steele.

On the surface the GOP is united on behalf of Steele but beneath all of the sweet talk there is grumbling and divisiveness, which also could negatively impact Ehrlich's re-election chances. So while the rhetoric is strong for Black involvement with Republicans the appeal by and large is not made in the Black churches, where there are cultural conservatives who do not believe that Democrats are helping the family. Rather the pitch is made to the NAACP, the Urban League and other old-line Black organizations which are so tied to Democrats that the GOP pitch draws ridicule.

It will be most interesting to see which, if any, of these four rather conservative Blacks is elected this year. It may be that the tide against Republicans will be so great that none is saved. If current polls are correct the Democrats would capture the Senate and control the House by 50 votes or so. Moreover, most Republican candidates for Governor, including Maryland's Ehrlich, would be defeated.

Should Republicans turn the situation around to create a more level playing field these candidates could be judged on their own. It remains to be seen if Republicans at the grassroots level are ready for Black Republicans to be elected. I'm not sure they are.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

 

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