March 31, 2005


GOP works to overcome skepticism among blacks (Chuck Raasch, 3/30/05, Gannett News Service)

Skepticism aside, this time could be different. There is lingering discontent toward Democrats among some blacks while Republicans are forging new alliances on issues with powerful appeal in the black community, such as school vouchers. Democratic strategist Donna Brazile says Mehlman's efforts should be "cause for alarm" for her party.

Republicans are reaching out to conservative black ministers and younger blacks who don't have the formative connection to the Democrats' pro-civil rights record of the 1960s. One of the more visible ministers is Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., head of the 3,000-member Hope Christian Church in Lanham, Md. Wearied by what he described as Democrats' timidity and indifference, the lifelong Democrat voted for Bush in 2004 and spoke out on Bush's behalf.

Jackson said he and other conservative black ministers, "gave permission for other Bible-based black Christians to unhook ... from the Democratic Party and vote their conscience."

Such ministers, Brazile wrote in the newspaper "Roll Call," "will assist the GOP in getting its message to black voters" and that some "may even like what they hear."

Jackson doesn't yet see the GOP as a panacea for black hopes, but he sees in Bush a man of religious conviction with a willingness to try new approaches.

"If we don't figure out how to keep these young black men from going back to prison, and with seven of 10 black babies being born out of wedlock, I don't see much positive," Jackson said in an interview. "The house is on fire, so I felt as though it was time to rise up and speak. But many, many people are going to hold the Republican Party accountable."

In their latest efforts to reach out to blacks, Republicans have replaced broader "big tent" rhetoric of the 1980s and 1990s with more calibrated, issues-based arguments framed around morality and economic empowerment, from abortion to Social Security reform.

"There are a whole series of issues that are coming up to demonstrate that we have ideas and we have proposals that will be beneficial to the African-American community," Mehlman said. "(Republicans are saying) 'If you give us a chance, we will give you a choice.' "

The big tent told blacks what was in it for the GOP. Specific issues tell blacks what's in it for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 31, 2005 8:05 AM
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