Black conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams has never voted for a Democrat for president. That could change this year with Barack Obama as the Democratic Party’s nominee.
“I don’t necessarily like his policies; I don’t like much that he advocates, but for the first time in my life, history thrusts me to really seriously think about it,” Williams said. “I can honestly say I have no idea who I’m going to pull that lever for in November. And to me, that’s incredible.”
Just as Obama has touched black Democratic voters, he has engendered conflicting emotions among black Republicans. They revel over the possibility of a black president but wrestle with the thought that Obama doesn’t sit beside them ideologically.
“Among black conservatives,” Williams said, “they tell me privately, it would be very hard to vote against him in November.”
Perhaps sensing the possibility of such a shift, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has made some efforts to lure black voters. He recently told Essence magazine that he would attend the NAACP’s annual convention next month, and he noted that he recently traveled to Selma, Ala., scene of seminal voting rights protests in the 1960s, and “talked about the need to include ‘forgotten Americans.”’
J.C. Watts, a former Oklahoma congressman who once was part of the GOP House leadership, said he’s thinking of voting for Obama.
Watts said he’s still a Republican, but he criticizes his party for neglecting the black community. Black Republicans, he said, have to concede that while they might not agree with Democrats on issues, at least that party reaches out to them.
“And Obama highlights that even more,” Watts said, adding that he expects Obama to take on issues such as poverty and urban policy. “Republicans often seem indifferent to those things.”
Writer and actor Joseph C. Phillips got so excited about Obama earlier this year that he started calling himself an “Obamacan”—Obama Republican. Phillips, who appeared on “The Cosby Show” as Denise Huxtable’s husband, Navy Lt. Martin Kendall, said he has wavered since, but he is still thinking about voting for Obama.
Michael Steele, the Republican former lieutenant governor of Maryland who lost a Senate race there in 2006, said he is proud of Obama as a black man, but that “come November, I will do everything in my power to defeat him.” Electing Obama, he said, would not automatically solve the woes of the black community.
“I think people who try to put this sort of messianic mantle on Barack’s nomination are a little bit misguided,” he said.
John McWhorter, a self-described political moderate who is a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and a New York Sun columnist, said Obama’s Democratic Party victory “proves that while there still is some racism in the United States, there is not enough to matter in any serious manner. This is a watershed moment.”