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Could Desire to Make History Lure Black Republicans to Vote Democratic?

Black America Web.com, News Report, Michael H. Cottman Posted: Jun 24, 2008

Black conservatives are facing an unprecedented decision heading into November's presidential election: Support Sen. John McCain, the Republican presumptive nominee, or pass on a historic opportunity to help elect Barack Obama, a Democrat who could become Americas first black president.

Across the country, some black Republicans are grappling with a political dilemma few ever thought possible. Many are excited about the possibility of a black president but torn because Obama doesn't agree with them ideologically.

Retired Gen. Colin Powell, who became the country's first black secretary of state under President George W. Bush, said he will not necessarily vote for the Republican. Powell's views echo many other prominent black conservatives, who are thinking about supporting Obama.

"I will vote for the individual I think that brings the best set of tools to the problems of 21st-century America and the 21st-century world regardless of party, regardless of anything else other than the most qualified candidate," Powell told reporters.

Black conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams has never voted for a Democrat for president. That could change this year with Obama on the ticket.

"I don't necessarily like his policies; I don't like much what he advocates, but for the first time in my life, history thrusts me to really seriously think about it," Williams said. "I can honestly say I have no idea who I'm going to pull that lever for in November. And to me, that's incredible."

According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, Obama leads McCain by 48 percent to 42 percent among all adults, while McCain has picked up support from independents who could be key to deciding the November election.

Tara Wall, a conservative columnist and deputy editorial page editor for The Washington Times, said she understands the historical significance of Obamas candidacy, but questions whether black conservatives are considering supporting Obama for the right reasons.

"You cant be black in America and not be proud of Barack Obama," Wall told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "But as black conservatives, lets not throw everything we believe in out the window because hes a black candidate."

Wall said she has spoken with some black conservatives who are considering voting for Obama in November.

"I understand it, but I fear there is so much enthusiasm for Obama that were overlooking our principles for the sake of a black candidate," Wall said. "Most black candidates will tell you that Obamas politics and values dont mesh with conservative values, so the question for black conservatives is what is Obamas character? What has inspired black conservatives to vote? Obama himself said not to vote for him because of his race."

Michael Steele, the Republican chairman of GOPAC, a conservative political action committee, said hes clear on which candidate hell support for president.

"Im a conservative; Im not grappling with it," Steele told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "Im sure its a real issue for some people, but most black conservatives I talk to do not seem to be struggling with this question."

"Im proud of Barack Obamas accomplishments," Steele said, "Hes made significant steps forward for the political empowerment of African-Americans, and this is a historic moment for our nation. But come November, Ill do everything in my power to defeat him."

Steele, the former Lt. Gov. of Maryland, said Obama "does not fundamentally understand how jobs are created" and he doesnt talk "smart" when discussing economics and foreign policy.

Obama opens the general election campaign with a narrow lead over Republican John McCain but the two score near even among independent voters, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

Darrell Jordan Jr., a press secretary for the Republican National Committee, said hes sticking with McCain.

"I am very proud of Barack Obama's accomplishment of becoming the first African-American presidential nominee, but even though I am African-American, I can't vote for him," Jordan told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

"The simple fact of the matter is that Barack Obama will harm the economy by raising taxes on the black small businesses that create jobs in the black community and his liberal position will push the envelope on social issues that matter to African-Americans," Jordan said.

"There are about five months until election-day, and I'm sure that many African-Americans will sit down and compare the choices for president, and they will realize that, at this time, Sen. McCain is a better choice because he has the experience and the policy to be president," he added. "I look forward, with anticipation, to the day when an African-American will be president; however, Barack Obama should not be the first one."

J.C. Watts, a former Oklahoma congressman who once was part of the GOP House leadership, said he's thinking of voting for Obama. Watts said he's still a Republican, but he criticizes his party for neglecting the black community. Black Republicans, he said, have to concede that while they might not agree with Democrats on issues, at least that party reaches out to them.

"And Obama highlights that even more," Watts said, adding that he expects Obama to take on issues such as poverty and urban policy. "Republicans often seem indifferent to those things."

Writer and actor Joseph C. Phillips got so excited about Obama earlier this year that he started calling himself an "Obamacan" -- Obama Republican. Phillips, who appeared on "The Cosby Show" as Denise Huxtable's husband, Navy Lt. Martin Kendall, said he has wavered since, but he is still thinking about voting for Obama.

McCain has made some efforts to lure black voters. He recently told Essence magazine that he would attend the NAACP's annual convention next month, and he noted that he recently traveled to Selma, Alabama, scene of seminal voting rights protests in the 1960s, and "talked about the need to include 'forgotten Americans."'

Still, the Arizona senator has a tall order in winning black votes, no doubt made taller by running against a black opponent. In 2004, blacks chose Democrat John Kerry over President Bush by an 88 percent to 11 percent margin, according to exit polls.

Michelle Bernard, a black conservative and president of the Independent Womens Voice, said for McCain to effectively reach out to black voters, he must employ a hands-on strategy of getting out and meeting with as many African-Americans as possible.

"It will be critical that Sen. McCain explain his dedication to all Americans, his understanding of the issues most important to African-Americans, and how his message of limited government, free markets, and personal responsibility benefit the African-American community," Bernard told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

"Sen. McCain should be meeting with blacks in as many communities across the nation as possible. Additionally, one of the 10 town meetings he has proposed should focus solely on African-American issues," Bernard said.

"Black voters need to be introduced to Sen. McCain in a manner that other Republican candidates have failed to do in the past," she added. "Apologizing for his initial opposition to naming a national holiday after Martin Luther King was an important gesture in demonstrating the he is will not take the African-American vote for granted."

Steele said hell campaign with McCain in the weeks ahead and added that McCain has agreed to speak at the NAACPs national convention in July.

"Sen. McCain will vigorously engage the African American community not because hes running against a black man, but because its the right thing to so," Steele said.

Peter C. Groff, a Colorado state senator, publisher of Blackpolicy.org, and the founder and executive director of the University of Denver Center for African American Policy, said he understands why some black Republicans might switch to Obama.

"This is not so surprising to hear many black conservatives voicing support for Sen. Obama," Groff told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "His ascendancy fits into that conversation and model, an African-American rising to the top of the political world through his own agency, by his own 'bootstraps,' through pure self-sufficiency," Groff said.

"His story fits the conservative mold," he added. "Additionally, Sen. Obama is making a strong bid for conservative and religious votes, evident in his use of spiritual themes in many of his speeches and outreach. Still, black conservative Republican support is an interesting phenomena, mainly because many very public black conservatives have always pushed the "content of your character" paradigm as a substitute to black power or black socio-political and economic gain based on "color."

Meanwhile, Republican delegates recently elected retired doctor Ada Fisher to the Republican National Committee. Fisher, 60, could be the first black Republican elected to the committee from North Carolina.

"Ada Fisher's election to the Republican National Committee is of great significance, particularly during this time of change in America's political landscape," Bernard told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

"Ms. Fisher, who may be the first African American elected to the RNC from a state in the deep south, is one of many steps that have been taken by the Republican party to return to its roots as the party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass," she said. "Also, it demonstrates that Republicans are serious about looking at issues of particular importance to African-Americans."

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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