Blacks Are Ripe For Republican Appeals by Armstrong Williams

The people have spoken.

For the first time in nearly seven decades, the President's party picked up seats in the House during the midterm elections and for the first time in two decades they made gains in the Senate during an off term election year, to take control of Congress. It also marks the first time in 100 years that the Republicans gained control of the House, Senate and Presidency.

''President Bush and the Republican Party tonight have made history,'' proclaimed White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

But the real departure came in the weeks leading up to the election, when a host of Democratic candidates attempted to swing their contests by co-opting winning Republican symbols (if not values). In Arkansas, Mark Pryor disavowed his previous views on abortion and flatly refused to support the pro-choice movement. Anywhere cameras clicked, he could be seen posing as a hunter. Pryor literally draped himself in camouflage, handed out brochures at gun shows and NRA conventions and stumped on second amendment rights. He won. It was conservative style politicking at its nadir.

In New Hampshire, Democratic candidate Jean Shaheen tried late in the game to swing the race in her favor by adopting conservative views on tax issues. (She failed.) Similarly, Max Cleland (D, GA) tried to defend his Senate seat by toting a pro-life, anti-taxes, pro-gun tune. More conservative a Democrat candidate cannot get. Nonetheless, Cleland also failed, a fact that no doubt causes conservatives to laugh unkindly. Still, the avidity with which Democrats were immersing themselves in conservative rhetoric suggests a new breed of conservative democrats, whose support Republicans might be able to rely on for key issues such as tax cuts and military spending.

The elections also suggest a shift in black voting patterns, with Republican candidates garnering large numbers of black American votes. In Georgia and South Carolina (where 37% of the population is black), Republican gubernatorial candidates unseated Democratic incumbents. In Maryland, Rep. Robert Ehrlich became the first Republican elected governor in more than three decades. His running mate happens to be black, a fact that was not lost on MD voters who felt hat Democratic opposition Kathleen Kennedy Townsend bypassed several qualified black running mates because she took the black vote for granted.

A recent opinion poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies indicated that support for the Democratic Party has dropped amongst black voters 11% over the past two years. During that same period, black support for the Republican Party has more than doubled. The study also indicated that young black Americans are breaking from traditional voting patterns on issues no less pervasive than social security, educational quality, vouchers and federalism.

These shifts suggest that black Americans are ripe for Republican appeals. Republicans can capitalize on this opportunity by admitting that they have displayed a certain insensitivity to black Americans in the past. That is not to say the Republicans must reinvent themselves or that party leaders need to publicly apologize for their predecessors clashing with Democrats over civil rights, voting issues, and affirmative action 35 years ago. (Though some, citing the pope's apology, might argue that's not such a bad idea.)

With a pledge to change, a dedicated grassroots effort to build bridges on the local level, a commitment to increase ethnic diversity within the party (and the ripple effect this will bring), the Republican Party can go a long way toward earning the like and trust of the black-American community. This increased trust will open up forums for Republicans to better explain positions and to engage in a genuine give-and-take with black voters. That, in turn, would help erode the decades old mandate that says blacks must vote Democrat and help ensure that blacks are no longer the easiest voting block for both parties to take for granted.

The mid term elections did produce one notable bright spot for the Democrats: Gov. Gray Davis was elected to a second term in California, despite spending much of the first term wrecking California's economy and energy industry. Plainly, Californians are giving their vote away. I herewith propose that they succeed from the union.

As for the present, a united Congress is in position to speed along a host of issues that resonate deeply with the American public, including the Homeland Security bill, tax and capitol gains cuts and the filling of judicial vacancies.

Game on Americans!

Armstrong Williams can be contacted via e-mail at:

Armstrong Williams

Monday, November 11, 2002