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African Americans Vie to Lead Republicans

AFRO, News Report, James Wright Posted: Jan 28, 2009

After suffering major losses in the last two elections, Republicans have a chance to make history as well as inroads with crucial minority voting blocs next weekend when they meet to select their next chairman.

Two African Americans are campaigning to lead the Republican National Committee when it holds its annual winter meeting Jan. 28-31 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C.

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is considered a leading candidate to chair the RNC. Steele has repeatedly argued to his fellow Republicans that the party should expand its base to include more people of color.

In 2002, Steele became the first African American to win statewide office in Maryland. Four years later, he lost a bid for the U.S. Senate to Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat.

Steele currently heads GOPAC, a political action committee that recruits and grooms Republicans for political office.

The other African American hoping to lead the Republican Party is Kenneth Blackwell, the former secretary of state of Ohio. A staunch conservative who believes that the party should stand its ground whether Blacks are attracted to it or not, Blackwell is vice chair of the RNC's platform committee and was the party's 2006 nominee for governor in Ohio.

Blackwell and Steele are running against several White candidates who include present RNC Chair Mike Duncan; Saul Anuzsis, chair of the Michigan GOP; Katon Dawson, chair of South Carolina Republicans; and Chip Saltsman, a Tennessee party leader who was campaign manager for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's presidential bid and who generated controversy when he sent a CD titled "Barack, the Magic Negro" as a Christmas present to RNC members.

The RNC is virtually all-White and needs to make inroads with Black and minority voting blocs after losing the House, Senate and White House to Democrats in 2006 and 2008.

At its convention held last year in St. Paul, Minn., African Americans comprised only 1.5 percent of the total number of GOP delegates, substantially below the record-setting 6.7 percent four years earlier. The 36 Black delegates in 2008 represented a 78.4 percent decline from the 167 Black delegates at the 2004 GOP convention, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Steele spoke at the convention and provided one of the partys more memorable lines - drill, baby, drill.

If an African American is elected RNC chairman next weekend, it may help the party among Blacks, but only a little, said Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at the George Mason University School of Public Policy.

"If either Steele or Blackwell is picked, it might say to Black voters that the party is interested in them," said Fauntroy, who has written a book called Republicans and the Black Vote.

"Not only that, Fauntroy added, it would also attract a wide range of voters outside of the Black community."

If an African American is elected RNC chairman next weekend, it may help the party among Blacks, but only a little.

Fauntroy said that it really depends on whether Steele or Blackwell wins the post.

"If Blackwell wins the position, it may not make a difference to Blacks because he does not register well with them," he said. "If Steele wins, then there is a chance but with Steele, moderates will feel more comfortable with the party."

If Blackwell or Steele is elected, they would become the first African American to lead a major political party since the late Ronald Brown was head of the Democratic National Committee from 1989-1993.

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