Jewish World Review Jan. 8, 2004 / 14 Teves 5764
GOPers would be wise to woo blacks those who vote and don't
Sometimes I receive letters or e-mails
that begin something like this: "I can't understand why
blacks or African-Americans or whatever it is you want to
call yourselves these days stay so loyal to the
Democratic Party. After all, President Bush appointed
Colin Powell as his secretary of state and Condoleezza
Rice as his foreign policy adviser."
And he showed good taste by doing so, didn't he?
However, as groundbreaking as their appointments
were, most black people I know still are waiting for the
Bush administration to create more jobs for blacks than
just the two mentioned above.
Nevertheless, I appreciate sincere questions, as
opposed to rants from people who just want to preach at
me. Writers like the one mentioned above simply do not
understand how the world looks from an
African-American point of view. If they did, they would not have to ask why nine out of 10
black votes tend to go to the Democrats.
Now Republican Party leaders say they are trying to close that gap. Yes, we've heard
that before. But this time Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National
Committee, calls increasing his party's share of the black vote "a top, top priority."
If so, the opportunities are there. Quite a few black voters, particularly the young, also
sound dissatisfied with giving nine out of 10 of their votes to one party.
Item: The number of black respondents who called themselves Democrats slipped
from 74 percent to 63 percent between 2000 and 2002 in polls by the Joint Center for
Political and Economic Studies, a black-oriented think tank based in Washington. That
could be a problem for Democrats and an opportunity for Republicans.
Also, 21 percent of the black respondents approved of President Bush's overall
performance in a poll taken last summer by the independent Black America's Political
Action Committee. That's more than twice the 9 percent of the black vote that went to
the Bush-Cheney presidential ticket in 2000 which in itself was almost a 25 percent
drop from the 13 percent of the black vote that the Republican Bob Dole-Jack Kemp
ticket received in 1996.
Item: Republican Michael Bloomberg won 22 percent of the black vote in the 2001
New York City mayoral election. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican,
won 17 percent of the black vote in the California gubernatorial recall election last
With developments like those, the GOP has announced new outreach efforts such as
ads in black-oriented newspapers and television, radio programs to promote
poll-tested Republican issues like tax cuts, "traditional family values" and school
vouchers that are more popular with rank-and-file black voters than with liberal black
However and this is a very significant "however" party leaders have remained quiet
about how much money they plan to spend on this effort.
"My guess is that it won't even come close to the level of what used to be called
walking-around money," quipped David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint
Alvin Williams, president of the independent BAMPAC, doesn't expect a dramatic
turnout in black votes this year, either, although his long-range view was more upbeat.
"The good news is that younger black voters are disillusioned with the Democratic
Party and more want to be seen as `independent, quote, unquote'."
Nevertheless, the GOP does not have to persuade black Democrats to switch parties
if it can persuade black voters not to vote.
That's not hard to do when Democratic candidates fail to reach out to blacks very well,
either. In Maryland's 2002 gubernatorial race, for example, Democratic Lt. Gov.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost mostly because of a lackluster campaign and
failure to pick a black running mate. Her Republican opponent, Rep. Bob Ehrlich, who
did choose a black running mate, Michael S. Steele, won 13 percent of Maryland's
black vote overall, and 22 percent of Prince George's County, a black voter stronghold
in suburban Washington. That high percentage of black votes, coupled with unusually
low black turnout, enabled Ehrlich to edge Townsend out.
In other words, black Democrats can be "swing" voters, after all, simply by not voting
for certain candidates.
As Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of The Hotline, an Internet political newsletter, recently
wrote, white voters don't swing that much, either. Even though recent polls show about
a third of voters call themselves "independent," most of those self-declared
independents also tend to vote for one party or the other, just like partisans do. Fewer
than 10 percent actually pick and choose candidates from both parties.
The most accurate definition of a swing voter, Todd wrote, "is a person who swings
between voting and not voting." That also describes a lot of black voters.
With that in mind, each party would like to have your vote. If they can't have your vote,
they would like for you to stay home. Either way works for them.
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