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Black GOPers in Dixie congressional races

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

March 30, 2010

At least seven African Americans are running for congress as Republicans in the South this year. If one or two of them get elected, along with African American Ryan Frazier (R) in Colorado, there could be a nucleus of black elected officials to help the GOP make inroads in the black community in the future. Although a number of Dixie’s Republican statewide candidates in 2006 sought and received a larger-than-usual share of the black vote, that trend disappeared in 2008 in black voters’ enthusiasm for Barack Obama’s presidential bid.

In the post-Obama era, many in the growing black middle and upper-middle classes might find it in their interest to support fiscally conservative policies; in addition, many of these voters hold relatively conservative social views, consistent with many in the GOP. This potential trend, if it develops, could offer the GOP an opportunity to – for a change – expand its base. Having two or three African American Republicans in Congress would certainly be a boost to this effort, probably more so than having African-American Michael Steele serve as chair of the Republican National Committee, which can easily be dismissed as window-dressing.

Most of the black Republican candidates have impressive backgrounds – professionally and/or politically. State Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) spent 13 years on the Charleston County Council. Deon Long made law review at the University of Michigan Law School before practicing law in Winter Park, Florida. Les Phillip in Huntsville, Alabama, is a graduate of the US Naval Academy. Angela McGlowan in Oxford, Mississippi, was a Fox News analyst before launching her congressional bid. And Lou Huddleston in Fayetteville, North Carolina, retired from the Army as a full colonel in 2003 and has since been both a civic and business leader in the district. 

Moneywise, unlike most black Republican congressional candidates in the South in past years, some of today’s contenders are proving successful at rounding up cash. As of the end of 2009, West had raised $1.2 million, Phillip raised $364,000 and Huddleston $122,000. Scott is also expected to do well in the financial battle; he scored a coup last week when he won the endorsement of the Club for Growth, an influential fundraising group that backs conservative Republicans. New financial reports, for these and the other contenders, should be available by April 15. 

Probably the most likely winner among them is Tim Scott (R) in South Carolina’s 1st District (Charleston, etc.). In 2008, Scott was elected as the first black Republican member of the state’s legislature since the Reconstruction era. (An historical note: If Scott is elected, he would be the second black Republican to represent this area in Congress; the first was US Rep. Robert Smalls (R), who served five non-consecutive terms during the late 19th Century.) Scott will have to face nine other candidates for the GOP nomination in the June 8 primary, but he is heavily favored to get a spot in the June 22 runoff, possibly with Paul Thurmond, son of the late US Sen. Strom Thurmond; Carroll Campbell III, son of the late Gov. Campbell; or Stovall Witte, former staffer to retiring Congressman Henry Brown (R). In the General Election, the Republican winner will face one of two Democrats, but the district is favored to stay in GOP hands.  

Despite this year’s more-promising-than-usual black Republican candidacies, most are underdogs. Allen West in Florida’s 22nd District (Boca Raton, etc.) is a former Army lieutenant colonel who retired following a 2003 incident in which, to obtain information, he fired a gun near an Iraqi prisoner’s head. West is in a tough district for a Republican, but he did get 45 percent in 2008, a Democratic year (Obama got 52 percent here). The NRCC has put West in its “Young Guns” program for promising challengers, but he is up against very well-financed freshman Ron Klein (D), who had $2.3 million on hand at year’s end. This looks like a Republican year, however, and there are always upsets. Watch this one. 

Les Phillip in Alabama 5 (Huntsville, etc.) has been pulling in good money, but he spent most of it raising his war chest and at year’s end had only $66,000 on hand. The leading fundraiser in this race has been freshman US Rep. Parker Griffith, who switched from D to R earlier this year, and is the frontrunner for a spot in the runoff.  Before Griffith switched, the NRCC had been high on Phillip’s candidacy, but – as is its practice – got behind Griffith when he became a Republican incumbent. Phillip has been successful in business and previously served as the Alabama GOP’s minority outreach chair. Either Phillip or County Commissioner Mo Brooks (R), with high name ID, is expected to end up in the runoff with Griffith. Wayne Parker (R), who got 48 percent against Griffith in 2008, has just endorsed Brooks, which should give him a boost. But as one Alabama insider commented, “There’s a lot of baseball to be played yet” before the primary on June 1 and the runoff on July 13.

Lou Huddleston is making a serious bid to win the Republican nomination in North Carolina’s 8th District (Concord, etc.). After a promising fundraising start, however, his money effort stalled. But he is on the NRCC’s “On the Radar” program; watch his numbers in the 1st Quarter 2010 reports. Huddleston has three primary foes, including well-funded Tim D’Annunzio (R), who raised $372,000 by year’s end, supplemented by a loan of $250,000. 

The other African-American Republicans are not expected to be competitive this year. McGlowan, aside from entering the race after other candidates had been campaigning for months, suffered a serious blow when a past TV interview surfaced in which she supported gun control. In Arkansas ‘s 1st District (Jonesboro, etc.), Princella Smith, a former aide to US Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA) and other Republicans, does not appear to have the political heft back home that a successful race requires; moreover, she is running in the May 18 primary against radio station owner Rick Crawford, who has been endorsed by former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and former US Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R). And Deon Long is competing with nine other candidates to oppose freshman Suzanne Kosmas (D); many of the other GOPers have more money and more political muscle. 

None of the African-American Republicans can depend on significant support from mostly Democratic black voters in the GOP primaries, although those who get the nomination might break into the black vote to a limited extent in the General Election. The problem for black conservatives is that their political agenda is not widely popular among other African Americans. According to news reports, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is disturbed by President Obama’s lack of progress on programs to help African Americans; however, the CBC solution would be to favor an expanded government role, not the limited government conservatives, black or white, espouse. And in the longer run, if some black voters, like many Catholics in the post-John F. Kennedy era, become more open to the GOP, occasional clashes over civil rights issues, such as the recent controversy over North Carolina’s Wake County (Raleigh) school board’s discontinuance of its diversity policy, could still encourage a wide gap between Republicans and African-Americans. Nevertheless, a significant change in American racial and partisan politics could begin this fall. Stay tuned.

   
   

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