Black Republicans Jumping GOP Ship
Black America Web.com, News Report, Michael H. Cottman Posted: Aug 22, 2008
The recent endorsement by seemingly steadfast Republican like former Iowa congressman Jim Leach, who are "crossing the divide of old politics" to support Sen. Barack Obama, has prompted discussion this week about black Republicans who are also crossing party lines to support the Democratic candidate.
High profile black Republicans like former congressman J.C. Watts said he might vote for Obama. Rumors flew last week that former Secretary of State Colin Powell would endorse Obama publicly. All across the country now, there are many black Republicans who may not be as well known as Watts or Powell but may indeed be supporting Obama.
Black conservatives told BlackAmericaWeb.com that they believe many black Republicans will privately cast a vote for Obama in hopes of helping the Illinois Democrat make history as America's first black president. Some blacks in the GOP will even attend next week's Democratic National Convention in Denver to get a first-hand view of history -- although they may not tell folks they're Republican.
Tara Wall, a black conservative, columnist and deputy editorial page editor for the conservative Washington Times, said she personally knows a number of black Republicans who will support Obama -- quietly.
"A lot of black Republicans won't tell you they're supporting Obama," Wall, a former senior advisor to the Republican National Committee.
Wall said Obama, in a tight race with Republican Sen. John McCain, could benefit from the crossing over of black Republicans.
"I think it will be worse for McCain and better for Obama because McCain can't afford to lose any black supporters," she added. "It will be a lot harder for McCain to garner support from African-American conservatives."
It's difficult, said Wall, to figure out exactly how many black conservatives would support Obama and if it would make a noticable difference in the election because there is no accurate data to determine the number of black Republicans since voters don't register by race, Wall said.
"There's no measure for that," she said. "People register only by party affiliation."
Still, Wall explained, more than one million black Republicans voted for President George Bush in 2004, so black conservatives could have some impact on the presidential election in November, especially if the contest is as close as recent polls suggest.
And, she said, Obama will need a large majority of white support to be successful. "He's running for president for all people."
Michael Steele, the former Lt. Gov. of Maryland and chairman of GOPAC, a conservative political action organization, said in a recent interview that he's sticking with McCain despite the many black Republicans who are reportedly torn.
"I’m a conservative; I’m not grappling with it," Steele told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "I’m sure it’s a real issue for some people, but most black conservatives I talk to do not seem to be struggling with this question."
However, Charles Ellison, chief editor of Blackpolicy.org at the University of Denver Center for African-American Policy, told BlackAmericaWeb.com that defections among black conservatives to Obama was expected.
"It's not a complete surprise to find Republicans defecting to the Democratic side during this election, much of that resulting from the unpopularity of the current president, the state of the economy and an unpopular war," Ellison said.
"There is a clear lack of confidence in Republican leadership, in addition to many younger, 'new-school' Republicans showing open disaffection for the direction of their party, which they think is relying too much on old methods," he said. "Their is also a sense amongst many moderate Republicans -- who hold the key to expanding the party and navigating it out of its current predicament -- that the conservative hold on the party, particularly by evangelists, has put the party into a significant bind. Plus, McCain's infamous temperament rubbed many party leaders and elected officials the wrong way in past years."
Ellison said many Republicans are not energized or excited by McCain. Polls, he said, show many Republican voters are either not enthused by their presumptive nominee or just plain resigned to the notion that Obama will win.
"Another key sign of this inner-party disillusionment is not only reflected in prominent Republican lawmakers showing support for Obama or Republican voters not feeling McCain, but it's also seeing many African-American Republicans and conservatives alike openly supporting Obama in defiance of the GOP and its predominantly White leadership," Ellison added.
Black convervatives could decide whether or not to support Obama depending on who the Illinois senator picks for his vice presidential running mate.
One reported candidate, Sen. Joe Biden, for example, may not be appealing to some black conservatives. Biden has made headlines for his frequent slips of the tongue and is considered by some as a loose cannon who should stick to prepared remarks. But they may support Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh for a vice presidential pick because Bayh sided with Bush on a number of key issues, including supporting the war in Iraq. On the other side, for Sen. John McCain's vice presidential nominee, some black Republicans may not support people like former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge because he supports abortion rights.
Michelle Bernard, a black conservative and president of the Independent Women's Voice, told BlackAmericaWeb.com just as there are white conservatives and Republicans who support Obama's candidacy, there are many black conservatives who find themselves supporting Obama "despite their disdain for a big government agenda."
"It is quite clear that the specter of an Obama presidency presents a conundrum for blacks who are fiscal conservatives and believe that limited government, free markets and equal opportunity are great equalizers," Bernard said.
"Clearly, pride in Obama's achievements in a nation where slavery was the original sin may play a decisive factor in how some black conservatives decide to vote in November," she said. "Additionally, Senator Obama's mantra of personal responsibility, particularly within the black community, is a deeply conservative and alluring philosophy that many conservatives, black and white, may find as an attractive means to finally get past issues of race in our great nation."
Lenny McAllister, a black political contributor to TheRoot.com, who wrote a recent online article about hip-hop Republicans, talked about this "overlooked demographic" on washingtonpost.com Wednesday.
"We feel that within these principles lay our past but also our future successes. Also, we understand that the principles are more long-lasting and greater than any one candidate in a party. That's something we cleave to as young Republicans as well," McAllister said. "We are the sect of the Republican Party that is young, urban, and focused on addressing urban issues with Republican priniciples."
McAllister also expressed dissapointment that in Saturday's forum at Saddleback Church, Obama said he would not have appointed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
"I was offended, not because Sen. Obama said that he would not pick Justice Thomas, but because of the 'qualifications' aspect of his opinion," he said. "A lot of black Republicans see that as code for several things, including being an 'Uncle Tom' and being someone that doesn't relate to black people."
Ellison said black Republicans, typically, are known to vigorously defend the party line. But these are unique times and a unique presidential election.
"Black Republicans are going to vote for Obama," he said. "It wouldn't be surprising if those black Republicans and conservatives who are tasked to campaign or support McCain will privately cast a vote for Obama. There just isn't any enthusiasm on the black right for McCain."
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