Minorities Aren’t Following Steele into the GOP

Perry Bacon Jr. and Krissah Thompson, Washington Post, April 14, 2010

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele , under fire recently from members of his party for what they view as his shortcomings in management and communication, has also made little headway in another area: winning over minority voters to the GOP cause.

When Steele took the helm of the RNC last year, he said expanding the party beyond its traditional base was one of his main goals. But he has not been able to chip away at a current political reality: The vast majority of non-white voters are Democrats who generally approve of President Obama.

In a recent Washington Post poll, 23 percent of non-white registered voters said they had favorable views of the Republican Party, compared with 72 percent who viewed the GOP unfavorably. Those numbers were similar to polls taken in 2008, before Steele took over as RNC chairman, when 28 percent of non-white voters had favorable views of the party and 67 percent unfavorable.

Views mostly unchanged

African Americans’ views of the GOP have barely budged since Steele’s tenure began: In Post-ABC News polls following Steele’s becoming the GOP’s first-ever party chairman, 78 percent of blacks say they view the GOP unfavorably, again virtually unchanged from two years earlier.

Beyond a handful of speeches by Steele before minority audiences, there is little evidence the GOP has launched an “off the hook” public relations offensive that would take the party to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings,” as Steele promised in an interview with the Washington Times shortly after taking the RNC reins. Steele has made some high-profile moves to woo minority voters, most notably a speech in July to the NAACP.

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“When he was selected, there was a hope he would present a different image that would attract more African Americans to the Republican Party so that the party would seem more welcoming to people other than old white guys,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political analyst who writes the Rothenberg Political Report . “He’s been in the middle of so much controversy that he hasn’t been able to do that.”

As the conservative Web site Daily Caller noted in a recent article, more than two dozen black candidates are running in House races across the country, some with enthusiastic backing from Republicans in Washington.

But only a handful, such as Ryan Frazier in Colorado and Allen West in Florida, are expected to emerge as victors in primaries against other Republicans in districts where they could then also win the general election. Many of them either won’t win primaries or are running in districts with strong Democratic incumbents. It remains likely that, after this year’s elections, the number of black Republican members of Congress will remain the same as it has been since Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) retired from the House in 2003: zero.

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