Many black Republicans are running—but so what?
One thing I’ve been hearing from Republicans since, like, ever about how if they could get a black nominee running for their party they’d be guaranteed a win, the implication seeming to be that with all blacks voting for a candidate just because he or she is black, plus with all “politically correct” liberals voting for any minority candidate regardless of qualifications, those voters combined with loyal Republicans would mean a landslide.
The Republicans’ problem has always been that this hypothesis is seldom tested. Three-term Republican Representative J.C. Watts was black, sure, but if you get all the liberals and blacks in Oklahoma voting for you, it’s not going to make a huge difference. At any rate, there are no other successful black Republicans to corroborate with Watts’ success.
However, there are a few men who are looking to change that. 2006 is seeing more black Republican candidates than have run for a long time. I’m not sure why this groundswell—probably coïncidence more than anything else—but there are quite a few at the moment. Rather than reconsidering the Republican Party, it looks like a number of anomalies. And it’s a chance to play the race card, which, after three decades of complaining about liberals doing it, must be a novelty that today’s conservatives are relishing.
There are at least four black candidates running as Republicans for office this year. There might be more, but I haven’t heard about them. If there are more, I’m sure we’ll hear about them soon. Republicans have a funny way of getting all worked up when they discover that they have someone in their number who’s not white.
Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (Maryland)—Lt. Gov. Michael Steele was doing well with his Senate bid until his recent comments in front of a Jewish audience, where he compared stem cell research to the Nazi Holocaust. He's dropped quite a bit in the polls against Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin, who is white. Cardin is currently the Democratic frontrunner, who's got competition from NAACP leader Kwesi Mfume. (Mfume, strangely enough, is not keeping pace with the internet age, since he’s apparently the first political candidate not to maintain an election web site since about 1990.) Steele once claimed in a press release that he was pelted with Oreo cookies at a speech he gave at a university, but no one will corroborate this claim, nor is there any evidence, physical or photographic, that this actually happened.
Recent polls show Cardin beating Steele by 15 points, where Cardin was trailing him by 5 points a month ago; Mfume and Steele are neck-and-neck. Cardin is the favorite for the Democratic nomination. This race is to fill the open seat that will be left by outgoing Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes, who's held the seat for about thirty years.
Lynn Swann—Former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann has locked up the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania governor. Swann, in his mid-forties, has no political experience, but he sure looks good on TV. Swann defines himself as a conservative, and has done the talk show circuit, dropping in on Chris Matthews and George Stephanopoulos this month. He parrots the regular GOP lines on stem cell research, abortion, opposition to the minimum wage, etc. He has also been going off about Democrats not delivering for blacks. What the Republicans could do for them, he doesn't say, but there you go.
Swann recently nudged out the moderate Bill Scranton III, son of former Pennsylvania Governor Bill Scranton, Jr., and unsuccessful 1986 gubernatorial candidate, losing to Bob Casey, Sr. 51-49, a loss largely attributed to a comment he made about western Pennsylvania being "more like Ohio." (As a native western Pennsylvanian, I can vouch that that's true, but jeez, it's not a very smart thing to say in an election.) Republicans hope that Swann's Pittsburgh connection will help him energize western Pennsylvania which, in these red-or-blue days, is rather purple. Incumbent Democratic Governor Ed Rendell, once a popular mayor of Philadelphia, is getting tepid support from Pennsylvanians. However, Swann isn't performing terribly well against Rendell thus far, though things haven't heated up. One speculation about Swann is central Pennsylvania, which is sparsely populated but reliably Republican. Some say central Pennsylvania wouldn't vote for a black man, and that Swann would just depress Republican turnout there. Having lived in central Pennsylvania for a number of years, I tend to agree.
Keith Butler—Keith Butler is a Detroit area politician, active in Republican politics since the Reagan administration. He's also a big wheel at Word Of Faith Ministries. His wife is, too. Butler is challenging incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow, and is not likely to beat her. No other Michigan Republican has expressed any interest in this race, as far as I know, even though this race was declared by some speculators last year as probably competitive. It sure doesn't look that way now.
Butler doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'd have much appeal for Michiganders, black or white. His wife Deborah appears on Word of Faith's web site. They’re a power couple, it appears, but a problem for them is that their Southern brand of religion just doesn’t play too well in Michigan.
One thing about Butler is that he's got a long, long list of his party's endorsements. Pretty much every Republican in Michigan has endorsed him. I have to wonder, though: if Senator Stabenow were actually vulnerable, wouldn’t another Michigan Republican have stepped up to the plate? It seems that maybe he's just there because no serious candidate is interested in the job. He wouldn't be the first sacrificial lamb offered up to an otherwise unbeatable incumbent, you know? Looks like he’s pulling a Goldwater.
Ken Blackwell--Outgoing two-term Governor Bob Taft III is America's least popular governor, mired in scandal, fiscal problems and unemployment. Taft is the latest standard-bearer of this powerful Ohio political family, son of Senator Bob Taft (an unsuccessful 1952 presidential candidate, probably hurt by his close association with Senator Joe McCarthy,) and grand-nephew of President William Howard Taft. It's a good year to be a Democratic politician in Ohio, with a few Ohio congressmen being mired in scandal lately, as well.
That said, enough folks are trying. The Democrats have settled on Rep. Ted Strickland, from southern Ohio, a soft-spoken reverend in his mid-60s. The Republicans are currently in a three-way primary contest, led by Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who is black. Blackwell isn't the most inspiring candidate, he's trailing Strickland in polls, but, Republicans point out: he's black! There's an argument I keep hearing that if you run a black candidate, all blacks will vote for him or her. The idea is that it's all about skin color and not positions or content of character. The paltry 9% of the black vote that Bush got in 2004 would have been closer to 90%, if only Bush were black. But considering the likely fortunes of Steele, Swann and Blackwell, this doesn't hold up.
Ken Blackwell is very chummy with George W. Bush, and is the one responsible for bringing Diebold machines to Ohio, as well as blocking efforts to issue voting receipts to voters using them. Blackwell is not winning the hearts of Ohioans. The recent meltdown of the Ohio Republican Party is bad news for Blackwell and good news for Democrats--but that'd be great news for Democrats if the Ohio Democratic Party hadn't already melted down in the early 1990s.
Oh, and an honorable mention on the Ohio Senate race. Due to the Ohio Republicans' recent woes, Republican Senator Mike DeWine is one of the more vulnerable incumbents. Two Democrats, State Senator Sherrod Brown of Akron and attorney Paul Hackett of Cincinnati, were involved in a tight primary. The Democratic National Committee saw that things could be messy, so it decided that since Brown looked like the stronger candidate, it pressured Hackett to drop out. Hackett, an anti-Bush Iraq War veteran, did so, but very publicly and very bitterly, excoriating the DNC in an interview. Rush Limbaugh picked up on this and snarked that the Democrats were propping up Sherrod Brown out of "PC" sentiment, favoring him simply because he's black. Photographic evidence on the Sherrod Brown campaign web site indicates that Sherrod Brown is, and always has been, white. Judge for yourself on Sherrod Brown’s own web site, which has current and accurate photos of the man.
There's a number of blacks running for Congress this year, and none of them except for Steele are Republicans. As to the House, I'm not sure how many are running. In the Senate, there's conservative Democrat Harold Ford, denizen of a powerful Tennessee political family. He's got the Democratic nomination locked up, but it remains to be seen who the Republicans are going to put up against him, so I can't assess his chances yet. To my knowledge, no other blacks are running for the Senate (but I bet that Alan Keyes is just kicking himself for having moved out Maryland just two years before this open Senate seat race!)
As to the 2008 presidential race—It looks like this is going to be an all-white field. Carole Mosely-Braun probably won't bother again, and while Al Sharpton might, he's not really considered a serious candidate. On the Republican side, there's been a little chatter about Condoleezza Rice running, but she's publicly stated that she's not interested, and I'm inclined to believe her. Colin Powell, I suspect, will also stick to his conviction that he doesn't want to run for elective office. The 2008 race will consist entirely of white males except for the Hispanic Bill Richardson and, of course, Hillary Clinton. You can expect plenty of talk about Illinois Senator Barack Obama, but I can’t see him running in 2008. He was just elected to the Senate in 2004, and he’s pretty young. Once he seasons himself in the Senate for a while, I think he’s got a definite presidential air about him. But if he’s on a presidential ticket before 2016, I’ll be surprised.