It is a truism that the relationship between African-Americans and the modern-day Republican Party has been marked by hostility and contentiousness. This reality is often difficult to reconcile with the GOP’s historical opposition to slavery and the Democrats’ often whitewashed track record on race relations. Despite an impressive roster of prominent African-American Republicans, blacks and Republicans sometimes seem as compatible as oil and water.
But nearly two years removed from the election of President Barack Obama, a subtle but remarkable political revolution has been set in motion. A cadre of black political candidates is angling to assume its place in Washington – as registered Republicans. With some convincing, they may yet help re-orient the historically troubled dynamic between black voters and the Republican Party.
In fact, no fewer than 20 minority candidates have declared their intention to run for Congress in 2010, a surprising number given that many are running in urban areas with sizeable black populations. Many have benefited from the GOP’s renewed emphasis to gain traction with minority voters, a priority voiced by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele – the first African-American to hold that position.
And the candidates certainly have their work cut out for them. Not only do black voters voter near-monolithically Democratic, but blacks who self-identify as Republicans or conservatives often come in for what author Shelby Steele once termed “a stunning amount of animus, demonization…and flat-out, undifferentiated contempt” from within the rest of the community. And in the past, black Republicans have won in conservative-leaning (and in most cases, predominantly white) suburbs, thus eluding the skeptical undercurrent that often confronts black GOP candidates from urban voters.
Ryan Frazier, a Republican Congressional candidate from Aurora, Colorado whose national profile has been on the rise, is all too familiar with those sentiments. In a reply to an e-mailed question from theGrio, Frazier described one of his toughest challenges with urban voters as “trying to explain how many conservative principles are more beneficial than big government policies. I like to say that as a country we want to give people a hand up, not a handout.”
Like other black GOP candidates for office, Frazier emphasizes common-sense solutions to intractable problems like the jobs, education and health care reform, all chief concerns of blacks and other voters of color. Widespread dissatisfaction with Washington and the stagnant job market – which has hit black communities hard – may be enough to convince some black voters to reappraise their relationship with the GOP and view black Republican candidates with new seriousness.
And a few of the GOP’s African-American vanguard are taking aim at some fairly powerful targets. Michel Frazier is challenging embattled Democrat Charles Rangel in Harlem; Isaac Hayes, (alas, not a reincarnation of the fallen soul icon but a young Chicago-area minister) is taking on Jesse Jackson Jr in Illinois’ 2nd District; Princella Smith, a former aide to Newt Gingrich, is launching a bid against Marion Barry in Arkansas’ historically Democratic 1st Congressional District; and Robert Broadus is running in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District – one that contains the largest black middle class in the U.S. and is currently represented by Democrat Donna Edwards.
An intriguing storyline involves Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, who is teeing up to take over incumbent Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat in a crowded Republican primary. Williams, however, is the only candidate to score an endorsement from South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint – an influential conservative kingmaker whose support has become the political equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for grassroots conservatives who dominate Republican primaries.
Conditions may be ripening for a critical mass of black Republicans in the political establishment – Congress hasn’t seen an African-American Republican since the departures of Oklahoma’s J.C. Watts and Connecticut’s Gary Franks, and voters nationwide are eager for new faces and bold ideas. While some are admitted long-shots, some stand a good chance of capitalizing on the brewing anti-incumbent zeitgeist and GOP efforts aimed at making inroads with black voters.
Tough sledding? Definitely. But if the stars align properly, 2010 might well go down in political history as the year of the black Republican.