Black Republicans & Obama: Torn Between Party and Race

Marcus Baram, ABC News, August 15, 2008

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But this time around, Culbreath (chairwoman of the Dallas Housing Authority), who is African-American, is supporting Barack Obama, insisting that it’s not out of racial pride but because she’s attracted to his character and vision for the country.

“I wouldn’t support just any black candidate. What I like about Obama is that he’s fresh, he’s got good ideas,” she tells ABCNews.com, noting that she admires some of Obama’s conservative viewpoints such as his emphasis on personal responsibility.

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Culbreath is just one of thousands of black Republicans and conservatives who are feeling conflicted in this election featuring the first major-party black nominee for president, torn between their allegiances to political party and their race. A minority within a minority—only 4 percent of African-Americans are Republicans—this small group has been heatedly debating their divided loyalties in dinner conversations and online message boards.

In a recent ABC News polls, 94 percent of black voters supported Obama and 2 percent supported McCain. Even those who identify themselves as black conservatives overwhelmingly favored Obama, 87 to 11 percent.

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While prominent black Republicans such as Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and American Civil Rights Institute chairman Ward Connerly are backing McCain, plenty of other black conservatives, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Republican Rep. J.C. Watts and talk-show host Armstrong Williams are still on the fence.

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Watts, who did not return calls, has told reporters that he is a “free agent,” adding that black Republicans were the “most forgotten demographic” in the party.

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Williams, a political commentator who was paid by the Bush administration to advocate their education policy, says that he gets emails from black conservatives who are supporting Obama.

“They are caught up in the euphoria, the possibility that you could have someone in the White House that we haven’t seen before,” he says.

Williams, who has never voted for a Democrat for president, says that he was also caught up in that excitement and was on the verge of supporting Obama about a month ago. “I would make history for myself in more ways than you can imagine,” he adds.

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Connerly, who supported Rudy Giuliani in the primaries and calls himself a “mild” McCain supporter, says that he thinks Obama will win over many black Republicans.

“There is great consternation among the ones I interact with, a lot of them are confronted with racial solidarity and being on the right side of history, as one characterized it, as opposed to voting for his true beliefs,” he explains. “I think [Obama] will get a lot of the black Republican vote solely on the basis of race, not only leaning his way but in his camp & Some are saying, ‘I don’t want him to have been elected president and for me to tell my grandkids that I was on the wrong side of history.’ Others will say, ‘If he’s elected, it will certainly put Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton out of business.’”

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