Nia-Malika Henderson, The Politico, February 28, 2009
Republican national chairman Michael Steele pledged Saturday to take his party into “every corner, every community center, every church” to fight for the black vote–a vote that went 95 percent for President Barack Obama.
And at the State of Black America forum, he got a reminder of just how hard that would be, even for the first African-American to lead the Republican party.
It wasn’t for lack of trying by Steele, who has talked in recent weeks about creating a new Republican party–one that is younger and more diverse, even cool. At the forum, Steele shared a stage with the Rev. Al Sharpton and other prominent liberals. And even Steele faulted his own party for ignoring the black community too long.
“We are not monolithic in our thought,” Steele said. “There is a diversity of opinion that can be expressed on economics, health care, on policies that affect us directly. That’s why I’m here, that opportunity to bring my party to the community,” Steele said.
He insisted his position as the head of the Republican party wasn’t about confronting Obama, instead trying to keep the focus on common ground.
Steele isn’t the first top Republican to make a bid for black votes. Support for the Republican party swelled to 11 percent in the 2004 presidential election. John McCain, however, got 4 percent of the black vote in 2008.
Still, the Republican party came under fire from panelists who said Steele needed to, in effect, get the GOP in line. Sharpton said the 2008 was a clear rejection of the Republican party and that “America made an Obama decision by being ambushed for eight years.”
“We are not in any way born with any party in our DNA. We support who supports us,” Sharpton said of black voters.
Steele joined the crowd in giving Sharpton a standing ovation when he talked about the successes of the civil rights struggles and how it opened doors for blacks. And they both agreed that Obama changed electoral politics by engaging the grass roots, young people and using technology.
Steele just hired Angela Sailor, a black woman, to oversee outreach efforts–she was formerly director of African-American affairs for the GOP.