GOP Eyes Black Vote in 2012

Tom Risen, Florida Courier, March 13, 2011

With two Black Republicans among the Republican freshman class, the GOP is looking into ways it can expand support from the Black community in 2012.

It will be tough: the party has to sell its efforts to repeal health care reform and limit unemployment benefits to a population wracked by joblessness and with a history of supporting such programs.

But Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Rep. Allen West (R.-FL) expect disenchantment with the economy coupled with support for socially conservative issues can build a foundation for the GOP in the African-American community for 2012, and beyond. Speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference on last month, West denounced perceptions that the GOP is racist as part of the “politics of character assassination.”

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Scott also believed the GOP can claim diversity and seek a more multicultural voter base, thanks to a recent crop of minority Republican politicians. Yet, Scott also recognized that the Democratic Party’s ties to the Black community will be difficult to dislodge while the Republican Party is pitching a return to limited government. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 Black voters have often and overwhelmingly voted in favor of Democratic candidates.

“We’ll have to spend a lot of money and we’ll need a good communications strategy against an Obama campaign that will attract a lot of young people and minorities,” said Scott. “But if the Black vote remains locked at more than 90 percent for Democrats in 2012, people will think the Black vote is not in play, which will weaken its impact on American politics.”

While West joined the Democratic-leaning Congressional Black Caucus at the start of the 112th Congress, Scott declined. Scott explained to NNPA that while he hoped to work with the Caucus on economic development and education, he did not expect the Congressional group to shift party allegiances in the near future, despite socially conservative leanings among Black voters.

“If Black people vote their issues, they will vote Republican more often than not, but it’s very difficult to overcome the emotional connection to something, even if the facts of their decision don’t line up with the intent,” said Scott.

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The February jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor indicated Black unemployment is at 15.3 percent, which is the highest of any demographic in the country. With the Black community struggling to find working-class jobs, West has advocated stricter immigration enforcement as a chief plank for the 2012 campaign.

“When you look at immigration it is a multi-headed hydra. It is an economic issue, it is an education issue, a national security issue, it’s a health care issue and it’s a local criminality issue,” West told NNPA. “We have to start looking at it that way, and not allowing people to pigeonhole us into thinking that we’re xenophobic, because that’s not the case.”

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The Affordable Health Care Act is also in the crosshairs for spending cuts sought by Scott and West. Alice Rivlin, a senior economist with the Brookings Institute, said GOP efforts to cut or repeal the law would “make gaining the Black vote difficult” for the GOP in 2012 because more than 30 million low-income voters in the Black and Latino community have benefited from its coverage.

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