October 25, 2002
BLACK POWER!:Republicans Try New Strategy: GOP Operatives Seek Percentage of Black Vote (Terry M. Neal, October 24, 2002, washingtonpost.com)
The Post's David Broder wrote last week that "across the South, all elections depend on the Democrats' ability to reduce white voters' propensity to back Republicans," Broder wrote. But the flipside of that point is true as well: Republican candidates who expect to win must reduce the propensity of black voters to support Democrats. So in statewide races in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina, among others, GOP candidates are crafting strategies to appeal to black voters.
The idea is not that they'll get a lot of votes. They just need some.
"It makes a dramatic difference whether a Republican gets 5 percent or 15 percent of the black vote in southern races," said pollster Whit Ayres, who is working for Riley and Tennessee Senate candidate Lamar Alexander this year. "If a Republican can get no more than 5 percent of the African American vote, then they're put in the position of having to win 68 to 70 percent of the white vote. It's not impossible to do, but it is tough.
"For every percent over 5 percent of the black vote that a Republican gets, it helps his chances all that much more."
Democrats such as Siegelman and Jim Hodges in South Carolina won their gubernatorial races in 1998 by focusing almost solely on education and skimming off of the overwhelming white majorities that typically vote Republican in the South, while maintaining 90 percent-plus black majorities. This year, their opponents are trying to chip into their percentages of the black vote while holding onto large majorities of white voters.
That strategy can be seen this year around the South and in states with large black population states such as Maryland, where Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. picked an African American running mate and held his first televised debate against Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend before the NAACP.
The strategy could also be seen in last Sunday's debate between Alexander and Democrat Bob Clement. Alexander tried to make an issue of Clement's failure to back then-Gov. Alexander's appointment of the state's first black Supreme Court nominee, George H. Brown, 22 years ago. Alexander pointed out that some black Democrats, including former Rep. Harold Ford, crossed party lines to support Brown, who was a Republican. Why should black voters support Clement, Alexander pressed, if he couldn't support Brown all those years ago?
Black leaders, especially clergy and businessmen, do themselves and their people a terrible disservice by not exploiting this power. Of course, the reason they don't utilize it is because it would require them to support Republicans once in awhile. But consider this: so long as blacks vote for Democrats in lockstep, there is no reason for the Democrats to give them anything in return. You know the old adage about how no one buys the cow when they're getting the milk for free.
Posted by Orrin Judd at October 25, 2002 11:03 AM