Obama Inspires Black Republicans to Switch Parties

Brendan Farrington, AP, August 22, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama isn’t just inspiring black voters to register in large numbers as he gets closer to being the Democratic presidential nominee. Evidence indicates that he’s motivating some black Republicans to switch parties.

The only three states that track voting registration by party and race show black Republican registration dropping slightly since the beginning of the year.

Florida has 81,512 more black Democrats compared to a loss of 784 black Republicans; Louisiana has 34,325 more black Democrats, while the number of black Republicans dropped by 907; North Carolina has 92,356 more black Democrats and 2,850 fewer black Republicans.

While the number of blacks who have left the GOP for the Democratic Party can’t be pinpointed, it’s not hard to find voters who have made the switch.

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Whitfield Jenkins of Ocala [Florida] became a Republican nearly four decades ago, abandoning the Democrats out of anger when black voters helped elect a state lawmaker who later opposed a state holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. In 2006, Jenkins helped Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s campaign, but this year he switched back to the Democratic Party for one reason: Obama.

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Overall, Florida now has nearly 1.1 million black Democrats, compared to just under 64,000 black Republicans. Louisiana has about 704,000 black Democrats and 26,000 black Republicans, and North Carolina has more than 1 million black Democrats and just under 44,000 black Republicans.

Three other states—Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina—track voter registration by race, but voters don’t register with parties. Each has seen large increases in black registration over recent seven-month periods, Georgia by almost 123,000, South Carolina by 43,198 Alabama by 20,844.

The biggest impact could be in Florida, where polls show a tight race between Obama and Republican John McCain. President Bush carried the state by only 537 votes in 2000. Democrats believe the result would have been different if not for problems in largely black precincts.

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Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer acknowledges that attracting more black Republicans has been difficult because of Obama’s candidacy and says he doesn’t expect a significant change in registration numbers this year despite party efforts to reach out to black voters.

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Some black Republicans say they’re supporting Obama but not switching parties. They include former Florida Black Republican Council President Dorsey Miller, who helped former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaigns and supports Crist.

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