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Why the GOP can't get it right with Black outreach

By Star Parker
web posted May 21, 2001

If recent statements from a high-ranking Republican official are any indication, the GOP is ready to abandon voters of color before they've even really attempted to reach them.

Tom Davis

Congressman Tom Davis (R-VA), Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), recently told a party gathering that the GOP should focus on recruiting gays, saying that would be easier than getting racial minorities. "Getting more gays and lesbians to vote Republican should be an easier part of the voter matrix than getting people of color," Davis said at the Lincoln Day event in Troy, Michigan.

This remark underscores both the tepid GOP commitment to garnering Black votes and their fundamental misunderstanding of building an electoral majority.

As a result, in the 2000 election cycle, Republicans courted Black voters with the message: "We're not that bad, really. We're not expecting you to vote for us this time, but maybe next time." Sad and pathetic are two words that don't really do justice to the so-called GOP outreach efforts.

While it is true that at least half of Black voters won't even consider pulling the GOP lever anytime soon, there are two constituencies Republicans should court: young Black professionals and evangelicals. The former group is attracted to economic empowerment in the form of tax cuts and reduced red tape for small business. The latter finds appeal in welfare reform, pro-life policies, and policies with a strong moral fiber.

This last election, Republicans had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, and they predicted George W. Bush could post the best GOP results among Black voters since Eisenhower, when Blacks voted Republican. Not only did George W. Bush not clear the 20 percent hurdle, he failed to even hit double digits. At a puny 9 percent, George W. Bush polled the lowest percentage of the Black vote since Nixon in 1968.

This miserable result with a candidate who seemed so promising has prompted many Republicans to raise the white flag. But what did Republicans do last fall to marshal the Black vote? Pretty much nothing.

Sure, the Republican National Committee has the New Majority Coalition, which is dedicated to minority outreach, but its a mere shadow of what the Democrats have. Democrats campaign on every block and in every church in urban America, yet the Republicans are almost nowhere to be found. If the GOP wants to recruit Black voters, they need to do the obvious: go to the Black voters. In Black churches, Republicans are MIA. On the airwaves of urban-targeted radio stations last fall, you could hear more than 10 Democratic or liberal interest group ad for every one from a Republican or conservative group.

The irony, of course, is that George W. Bush on the issues has more appeal to Black America than previous Republican presidents. George W. Bush favors Social Security privatization, school choice for lower-income children, and charitable choice. All of these reforms have much greater benefit for Blacks than any other demographic. And this appeal is starting to spread: according to a recent in poll in the Wall Street Journal, Bush's approval rating among Blacks has risen from 13 percent in January to 33 percent now.

But that recent progress, which came on the heels of a socially conservative agenda, could be halted if GOP leaders like Davis have their way. Republicans like Davis want to emulate the Democratic Party and cater to the radical special interests that seek to use the heavy hand of government to their own narrow advantage. Teachers unions and homosexual activists have for years pulled strings to control Democrats, but now some Republicans are more than willing to be complicit puppets for these interests.

If homosexual activists really only wanted to be left alone to lead their own lives, then that would be one thing. But these activists want to curry special favor with the government and to have politicians set school curriculum to indoctrinate children that homosexual activity is a safe and normal activity. But that question is deeply personal, moral, and yes, religious; not something the government should have a say in.

But courting homosexual activists at the expense of reaching Black voters, the GOP shows a terrible grasp of electoral math. Homosexuals make up approximately 3 percent of the voting pool, or roughly one-fourth the number of Black voters. One-third of gays already vote Republican, meaning that the potential number of homosexual converts could be no more than 2 percent of the voting population. But in what parallel universe could the GOP ever get more than 50 percent of the overall gay vote?

But among Black voters, Republicans have a lot of room for improvement. In 2000, Blacks finally turned out in force, representing 12 percent of voters. Bush captured roughly one-twelfth of these votes. Given that there are four times as many Blacks as gays, and given that Republicans now receive a much lower portion of the Black vote, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure there are more votes to be gained by targeting Black voters. But adopting the gay activists' agenda would alienate the Black evangelicals that Republicans have the best chance to win over.

If the GOP is to have any hope staying the majority party, they had better stay the course started by George W. Bush with a clear, focused empowerment agenda and avoid folks like Davis who would water down that message to court radical fringe groups.

Star Parker is founder and president of the Coalition on Urban Renewal & Education (CURE); a grassroots research organization addressing issues that impact Black America and the poor.

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