The GOP and African Americans: "We Dropped The Ball," Says a Leading Black Republican

In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Senator John McCain promised that if he’s elected, “we’re going to reach out our hand to any willing patriot, make this government start working for you again, and get this country back on the road to prosperity and peace.” During the fall campaign the outreach may not be quite as sweeping, especially when it comes to African-American voters. In an interview with Feet in Two Worlds, Michael Steele, the Chairman of GOPAC and one of the few African Americans to address the GOP convention, said as far as he knows “there is no effort” by the McCain campaign to counterbalance the surge of support for Barack Obama in the black community.

“The reality of it is, you take ten African Americans, nine and a half of them are going to vote for Barack,” said Steele, the former Lt. Governor of Maryland. “That still doesn’t mean you don’t compete for the vote. You still lay out the cause for looking at John McCain. Because as John McCain himself has said, before the NAACP and the Urban League, ‘When I’m your president you will have a seat at my table.’ Not even Barack is saying that.”

GOPAC is a political action committee created in 1979 whose purpose, according to a statement by Steele on the GOPAC web site, is, “recruiting, training, and equipping candidates across the country to establish and maintain a Republican majority.”

According to Steele, when it comes to cultivating African-American voters and candidates, the Republican Party has, “literally dropped the ball.”

“We need to pick it up and move forward with it,” he said.

Yesterday, The Washington Post reported there were just 36 black delegates among the 2,380 at the Republican convention, the lowest number in at least four decades.

Steele’s assessment comes in an election year when black voters, energized by Obama’s candidacy, have already demonstrated their clout at the polls. Heavy turnout by black voters in the South Carolina Democratic primary gave Obama the edge he needed to beat Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

In July, Mike Baker of the Associated Press wrote, “If Barack Obama’s historic campaign to become the first black president boosts black turnout as drastically as he predicts, he could crack decades of Republican dominance across the South.” Obama has pledged to increase black voter participation by 30 percent this year. If that happens, Baker cites four states that could shift from red to blue in the November election. They include Florida, the mother of all battleground states, Virginia (another important battleground state), Arkansas and Louisiana. In addition, Baker reports that the Obama campaign is focusing on boosting African American voter turnout in six other states -North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Michael Steele maintains that the McCain Campaign is pursuing a “fifty-state strategy” to elect their candidate. But with no pages in the playbook specifically aimed at African-American voters, Republicans may discover they have ceded a critical group of voters to the Democrats in a what many believe will be a very tight election.

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