2006: Anything But ‘The Year of the Black Republican’

By Hazel Trice Edney, New American Media
Friday November 17, 2006

As Democrats recaptured control of the House and Senate last week, Black Democrats won more than half of the 13 statewide offices they competed for while Black Republicans won none, debunking what the GOP had billed as “the year of the Black Republican.” 

The Black Democratic wins yielded one governor, two lieutenant governors, one attorney general, one secretary of state, one state treasurer and one commissioner of labor. Black Republicans ran for governor in Ohio and Pennsylvania and for the U. S. Senate in Maryland. 

“It was a great year for Democrats,” says David Bositis, senior analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, referring to both Black and White party members. Only 11 percent of Blacks voted for Republican congressional candidates, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for the Associated Press and television networks. That percentage is consistent with shares won by Republicans in the 2004 presidential race. 

Terone B. Green, a Black Republican operative in Virginia widely known for his outspokenness and activism, says the Black Republican losses were fueled by more than just opposition to extended U.S. presence the Iraq. 

“People are going to say it’s the war, but Republicans just don’t have a solid strategy to prevail in the Black community,” he explained. 

“You can run a Black Republican all you want to, but it’s clearly evident that Black folks don’t believe in them because Black Republicans do not prop up African-Americans in any significant way. Black people just don’t trust Republicans. That’s the bottom line.” 

Much of that distrust comes from the failure of Republicans to support issues favored by African-Americans. On the last NAACP Report Card, 98 percent of all Republicans in Congress received Fs, compared to only 2 percent of Democrats. 

In recent years, only two Black Republicans have won U. S. House seats. They are former Connecticut Rep. Gary Franks (1992-1997) and Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts (1994-2003). They were the only Blacks elected to the House since 1932 and both won in districts that were at least 90 percent White districts. The only Black Republican elected to the Senate since Reconstruction was Sen. Ed Brooke who served from 1967 to 1979. 

Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman, who had boasted that this would be the “year of the Black Republican,” now says he will leave the chairmanship by January after this year proved to be the year of neither the Black nor White Republican. 

“Give us a chance, and we’ll give you a choice,” he told the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington, D.C. in February. Blacks rejected that choice, according to exit surveys. 

Green says, “They just don’t get it. They want people that they feel comfortable with. But they need to find Black candidates that can really identify with the Black community.” 

So far, that has been an uphill struggle. 

All three of the statewide Black Republican candidates failed to get more than 25 percent of the Black vote. 

They were: Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who lost his gubernatorial bid with 20 percent of the Black vote; former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann, who lost his Pennsylvania gubernatorial bid with 13 percent of the Black vote; and Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who lost his senatorial bid received 25 percent of the Black vote. No Black Republicans ran for lower statewide offices. 

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tara Wall argued that this election represented progress. 

“That’s historic for any Republican to get 25 percent of the Black vote. We have definitely made strides,” she says. You can compare that with the last Republican that ran for that seat in ‘88…I think we’ve made great strides.” 

That candidate was conservative Republican activist Allen Keyes, who got 14 percent of the Black vote in that campaign, losing to incumbent Democrat Paul Sarbanes. 

“So, I think you see that there is an increase of the number of African-Americans who are voting for Republicans,” says Wall. 

“This is just the beginning. This is not the end. These three folks have very bright futures in this party.” 

Of 13 Democrats who ran in the Nov. 7 elections, seven won: Deval Patrick Massachusetts’ governor-elect; David Patterson, New York Lt. Gov.-elect; Anthony Brown, Maryland Lt.Gov.-elect; and three who were re-elected, Thurbert Baker, Georgia attorney general; Jesse White, Illinois secretary of state; Denise Napier, Connecticut treasurer and Michael Thurmund, Georgia commissioner of labor. 

The six losing Democrats were: U. S. Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), candidate for U. S. Senate; Mississippi senatorial candidate Erik Fleming; Georgia state superintendent of education candidate Denise Majette, a former congresswoman; South Carolina secretary of state candidate Cheryl Footman; Ohio state auditor candidate Barbara Sykes; and Ohio Supreme Court candidate Ben Espy. 

Bositis says the problems of the three statewide Black Republican candidates extended beyond their race. 

“Blackwell made big enemies of everybody else in the Republican Party and so they really wanted him to lose,” Bositis explains. 

Largely credited with Bush’s controversial win in the 2004 presidential race, Blackwell has been beleaguered with legal problems afterward, including a suit that found that Ohio election officials had, in violation of state law, informed former felons that they could not vote. He also directed his office to only accept voter-registration forms printed on paper of at least 80-pound weight, a decision that he later reversed under pressure from voting rights groups.This year, Blackwell issued an advisory that said voter identification cards must have their current addresses, a requirement that was contrary to state law. 

Bositis continued, “Lynn Swann wasn’t going to win. The Republicans were desperate when they picked him. I mean, he’s a football player, what do you want? And Michael Steele, you know, Maryland is a Democratic state, that’s why he lost.” 

Democratic wins in Congress are ultimately expected to amount to a 232-203 majority in the House and a 51-49 majority in the Senate. That majority will probably be expanded with support coming from independent Bernie Saunders, a socialist; and Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent. Both have said they will caucus with Democrats. 

Democratic governors are also celebrating a majority they have not had in 12 years. They now have a 28-22 edge in statehouses. Ohio, Colorado and Arkansas are among states that returned to Democratic hands after eight years or more of Republican occupation. 

“Lost in all this talk about the House and the Senate is the governorships,” says Daniella Gibbs Leger, a spokeswoman for the Center for American Progress. 

“Often you have a lot of governors complaining that they are shouldering the burden of a lot of domestic issues because they can’t get the help that they need from Congress.” 

States look to the federal government for help on many issues impacting low income communities, such as money for educational shortfalls, after school programs, Head Start and community development block grants. 

“The 109th Congress has been the do-nothing Congress,” says Leger. 

“And I think that with a new progressive Congress in power, they will understand the struggles that the states are going through and they won’t leave the states out there to hang, basically, and try to fulfill all of these duties without help from the federal government.” 

And candidates running for president might benefit from that shift as well. If presidential voting mirrors the votes for governors, 295 electoral votes could go to a Democratic candidate president, 169 more than they had. The presidency is won with 270 electoral votes. 

Even with early speculations that the presidential race is shaping up to possibly include Black Republican Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Green says he is tiring of trying to change the party from within. 

“The ones they do prop up, like your Colin Powell’s, he carried the water for Bush and now that he’s out of there he’s beginning to tell how he really felt,” Green says. 

“He should have had the courage to tell how he felt while he was sitting there with that power…I’m not there because I believe in what they say. I’m there because somebody’s got to be there to tell them that they are wrong.”