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Jewish World Review
Feb. 8, 2006
/ 10 Shevat, 5766
A bigger, blacker GOP
Far away from the speeches of Jesse Jackson, the demands of Al Sharpton and the ranting of Louis Farrakhan, a quiet revolution is taking place in the role African-Americans play in politics. In the very heartland of the nation in Pennsylvania and Ohio the Republican Party is getting set to nominate black candidates for governor in the coming elections. In a nation that has not a single African-American governor not one from either party, this is its own little revolution.
These are not throwaway candidates in states where the GOP has no chance of victory. These are real candidates, chosen when there were plenty of white alternatives, that are en route to their party's nomination, with real chances to win.
In Pennsylvania, former football great Lynn Swann stands poised to be designated as the Republican candidate at next week's State Convention. The former wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, now enshrined in the Hall of Fame, is seeking fame of another sort, trying to be the state's first black governor.
In Ohio, a key swing state, Ken Blackwell, the Republican secretary of state, is running for the gubernatorial nomination in a state Republicans can win. In Maryland, Lieut. Gov. Michael Steele is seeking the open Senate seat.
Add these men to the possibility that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might heed Laura Bush's advice and run for president, and a revolution may be in the making.
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Salena Zito, a political columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, notes that "to an extent, Democrats have been blindsided by this growth of black Republicans running for high-profile offices."
The backdrop for this sea change is sketched out in a new book by an ex-Bush White House staffer, Ron Christie, "Black in the White House: Life Inside George W. Bush's West Wing." He catalogues a range of policy initiatives which, particularly in education, have led to achievements that rival the best of the Clinton years.
Partly as a result of President Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation, the achievement gap between white and black fourth-grade students in reading is at its lowest ever and the math gap is, too. (The eighth-grade tests also reflect a sharp narrowing of the gap.)
And as former Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma found out, African-Americans who reject the entitlement ethic and stand for self-reliance and individual upward mobility are very attractive to white voters. Asked to accept liberal ideology and big tax-and-spend programs as the price of supporting black candidates, many voters say no. But given a chance to find black candidates who share the electorate's vision, most white voters jump at the chance.
Black candidates are highly threatening to white political leaders. Sources close to Rev. Al Sharpton, for example, attribute Hillary Clinton's comparison of the House of Representatives to a "plantation" to her fear of a Rice candidacy. "She boycotted the event for two years in a row and now, when Condi might run, she shows up and uses militant rhetoric," one of Sharpton's key people told me. "She needs to get Al to vouch for her in South Carolina if she goes up against Condi," he added.
The Democratic Party has always treated the African-American vote like a golfer's handicap. A Democrat takes the black vote for granted and a Republican, until recently, takes its loss as a given. But the growth of black candidates among Republicans a result of the declining power of racism in politics may force both parties to change that calculation. If the black vote becomes "in play" as the Hispanic vote has, there will be a whole new politics in this country of ours.
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