The 2010 election cycle is notable for the Republican Party tidal wave that saw the Democrat Party lose control of the House of Representatives, and have diminished majority in the Senate. The Wave brought with it some diversity in the GOP’s Congressional delegation: there are now two African American Republicans in the House of Representatives.
The last time there were two African Americans Republicans in Congress was in 1995-96, when J. C. Watts represented the 4th District of Oklahoma and Gary Franks represented the 5th district of Connecticut.
This year’s breakthrough occurred thanks to the election of black Republicans in Florida and South Carolina. Allen West won his race for congress in southern Florida, while Tim Scott won his race in the Charleston and northern coastal area of South Carolina.
Allen West won in Florida’s 22nd District, which includes parts of Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, and other portions of Broward County and Palm Beach County. These are north of Dade County, which contains the city of Miami.
West’s district is 75% white, 15% Hispanic, and just 5% black. He beat out two-term Democratic incumbent Ron Klein by a margin of 54.3% for himself to 45.7% for Klein. The two had faced each other in the 2008 election; in that election, Klein beat West by 55% to 45%.
West has something of a reputation for being controversial and combative. The 2010 Almanac of American Politics spoke of West in its discussion of the 2008 election:
…former Army Lieutenant Col. Allen West… retired after a 2003 incident in which he fired a gun near the head of an Iraqi detainee in an effort to make him reveal information about plans to attack U.S. troops. West’s explanation was that he had “sacrificed” his military career “for the lives of my men.”
Also during the 2008 campaign, West charged that a request for an interview from Al-Jezeera was actually part of a kidnapping plot.
The website TalkingPointsMemo.com said this about West:
Without a doubt, Allen West is going to become a new star all around — adored on the right, and a bogeyman of the left. First of all, West built his conservative political career on a particular event from his own military service — when he tortured an Iraqi policeman, and was proud of it. Since then, his attitudes on foreign policy haven’t changed much: “A nation goes to war against an ideology. We are against something that is a totalitarian, theocratic, political ideology, and it is called Islam.” The incident ended his time in uniform, and launched him on a track to Republican politics.
Also during this past campaign, West faced questions over his campaign’s ties to a criminal biker gang, The Outlaws. And at one of his events, a group of leather-clad men ejected a Democratic video tracker, as West got the crowd cheering. (It is unclear whether these same security men were Outlaws. In addition, West has pointed out that he could not possibly be an Outlaw himself — they do not accept African-Americans as members.)
It remains to be seen if West will this interesting once he gets on to the mundane tasks of representing his district in Congress, although being a black Republican will surely get West some media attention no matter what he does.
DID YOU KNOW: South Florida now has three African American representative in the Congress: West; Alcee Hastings, who represents Florida’s 23rd District; and newly-elected Fredrica Wilson, of Florida’s 17th District. The 17th District seek was previously held by Kendrick Meek. Meek ran for the U.S. Senate this year, and lost in a three-way race (that included outgoing Florida governor Charlie Christ) to Marco Rubio.
The other successful Republican African American candidate for U.S. Congress is Tim Scott. Scott will be representing the 1st District of South Carolina. This includes much of the Charleston metro area, although the heavily black parts are in the nearby 6th District. The 6th District is represented by James Clyburn, who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Clyburn is the current House Majority (Democratic Party) Whip, which is one of the leadership positions among House Democrats; however, with Republicans taking over the House, his role may change. We'll see.
Right after Obama’s presidential election win last November, I made this comment:
Here are my own election winners and losers, plus some “too early to tell” entries…
Too Early to Tell:
Black Voters: They were huge this election. Blacks were 13% of the total vote, up from 10% in 2000 and 11% in 2004. That helped make the difference in close elections for several states.
The question is, can they be depended on in future elections? Or will their turnout drop without Obama at the top of election ballots?
I think a lot more work needs to be done to make black voters a dependable election force, in close elections or elections in the South. Because if they’re not a dependable political force, that lessens their power and influence in the long run.
It will be interesting to see how much of the black vote turns out for the Georgia Senate runoff election between Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and his opponent, Democrat Jim Martin. Martin has no hope of winning if black voters stay home; we’ll see if they sit this one out.
In the aforementioned Georgia Senate race, Jim Martin did wind up losing, and low black turnout was a factor.
Yesterday, Republicans won the governor’s election in New Jersey and Virginia. In both cases, the young and black voters who were key to Obama’s election success were not decisive in their support for the Democratic candidate.
Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press made these comments:
In another troubling omen for Democrats, the surveys also showed that more of the Virginians who turned out on Tuesday said they supported Republican John McCain in 2008 than said they backed Obama. That suggests the Democrats had difficulty turning out their base, including the swarms of first-time minority and youth voters whom Obama attracted as part of his diverse coalition.
A loss in Virginia could suggest that the diverse coalition that Obama cobbled together last year in Virginia and elsewhere — blacks, Hispanics, young people, independents and Republican crossovers — was a one-election phenomenon that didn’t transfer to the Democratic Party when Obama wasn’t on the ballot.
I share Sidoti’s concern, although I disagree with her comment that the Obama election win was a one hit wonder in terms of pulling together what I call the “Obama coalition” of young, black, Hispanic and independent voters.
Witness, for example, 38-year old Democrat Anthony Foxx in the Charlotte, North Carolina mayoral election. Voters in the city ended more than two decades of Republican leadership in Charlotte Tuesday by electing Foxx, who is the city’s second African-American mayor and the youngest in memory. Foxx won a close race, getting roughly 51 percent of the vote over Republican John Lassiter in unofficial tallies.
Foxx benefitted from a strong black turnout. African Americans are 35% of Charlotte’s population. The Democrats need to find and promote more candidates like him, who appeal to diverse constituents.
The bottom line is, if the Democrats are going to win “the Obama way,” they need to embrace the kinds of voters that put Obama into office. Failure to do so is perilous. Consider these comments from the Washington Post, concerning the election campaign in Virginia governor’s race:
Senior (Obama) administration officials have expressed frustration with how Democrat R. Creigh Deeds has handled his campaign for governor, refusing early offers of strategic advice and failing to reach out to several key constituencies that helped Obama win Virginia in 2008, they say.
A senior administration official said (Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh) Deeds badly erred on several fronts, including not doing a better job of coordinating with the White House. “I understood in the beginning why there was some reluctance to run all around the state with Barack Obama,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about the race. “You don’t do that in Virginia. But when you consider the African American turnout that they need, and then when you consider as well they’ve got a huge problem with surge voters, younger voters, we were just a natural for them.”
A second administration official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Obama, (outgoing Democratic governor Tim) Kaine and others had drawn a road map to victory in Virginia. Deeds chose another path.”
And it goes without saying that black voters can’t afford to be apathetic or unengaged simply because certain kinds of candidates aren’t running. Not everyone who runs for political office is exciting or charismatic. And sometimes it is about voting for the lesser of two evils. Black folks need to be willing to come out to the polls even in those kinds of situations.
There’s been a rash of politicians-mainly Southern, always Republican-who have made comments to the effect that their states should secede from the United States. Given that these statements are being made a time when we have an African American President, the symbolism of this rhetoric is extremely disturbing.
General David Poythress is a Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia. He has this to say about politicians who would “cut and run from America”:
This is some text from the clip:
For years, Georgia’s 8th Grade students read in their history books about our state’s decision to secede from the United States back in 1861. Today, our students need only look at a daily newspaper to see that talk of secession isn’t just a thing of the past. In fact, four of the six Republican candidates said they would support Georgia seceding from the United States of America. This is outrageous.
This is absolutely disgraceful—it’s a slap in the face to every patriotic American, to anybody who has served under the American flag and to those brave Georgians who have fought and died for our country in Iraq…
What really offends me the most, is that none of these Republican secession candidates ever wore, for a single day, the uniform of our country, carried a weapon, or heard a shot fired in anger. Not ONE ever put their life on the line to protect our freedoms and liberty.
But they recklessly call for secession from America. They would in effect, ban the American flag and end the pledge of allegiance. They would say to the world that when they don’t get their way, they quit.
That’s just childish. That’s cowardice, not leadership… Real leadership means we work toward common sense solutions to protect American values, not just quit our country because we don’t agree with other Americans… United We Stand. Divided We Fall… Know this: when I’m the Governor of Georgia, I won’t cut and run from America… When I say the Pledge of Allegiance, I mean it.
I don’t know much else about the General, and let me make it clear, I am not promoting his candidacy. But this is an important and timely message, and I felt strongly that I should help to spread it.
In a related note: earlier this week, I attended a Juneteenth celebration that was held at the main library here in Washington, DC. During the event, one of the speakers asked everyone to rise and say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Most of the people in the almost all-African American audience stood and said the pledge. But there was a bunch of people who did not.
I was troubled by this. Yes, this country has committed its share of offenses. Certainly, slavery and Jim Crow are evils that will forever stain the American legacy.
But darn it, this is our country too. During the Civil War, some 200,000 African Americans served in the Union forces. Many of them died in the cause of our freedom, a freedom that all black Americans enjoy today… and that many black Americans, sadly and unfortunately, squander.
My uncle served in World War II. He was a part of General Patton’s black tank unit. He took pride in showing me a Nazi swastika that he captured from German soldiers. And I took pride in hearing of his accomplishments.
Bottom line, we fought for this country, we built this country, we ARE this country. America is us.
I am proud to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Not necessarily for the America that is, but for the America that I want and am willing to work hard to create. I pledge that I will make America a better place, not just for me, or my family, but for the world community.
And that’s something we should all stand for.
PS: I don’t mean to imply that folks who don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance are unpatriotic or other wise “bad.” What I am saying is, I hope that people won’t see our nation’s horrible race history as a block to saying the Pledge. I’m not saying that we should turn our back on the past, but rather, turn our faces forward to the future, and pledge to the country we want to create, not the one we had before or even the one we have now.
I want to give a hat tip to the folks at Indigo Journal for turning me on to this story.
I guess the Republican Party just can’t help it. Making crude comments about African Americans, even one who has reached the position of POTUS, seems to be in their DNA. Consider these clumsy remarks by the Republican Party about Barack Obama and his wife Michelle:
• From Newscoma: Tennessee GOP state Senator Diane Black (R-Gallatin) sent an email with this image of our country’s presidents.
• From the Indigo Journal: Mike Green, a Republican operative who is helping to run the campaign for GOP gubernatorial candidate Gresham Barrett, posted the following joke about President Obama on his Twitter account:
JUST HEARD OBAMA IS GOING TO IMPOSE A 40% TAX ON ASPIRIN BECAUSE IT’S WHITE AND IT WORKS.
• Fitsnews.com reports: Republican Rusty DePass, a former SC State Senate candidate, supporter of former President George W. Bush, and Longtime GOP activist, made this comment after hearing about the escape of a gorilla from a zoo in Columbia South Carolina:
“I’m sure it’s just one of Michelle’s ancestors — probably harmless.
And yet they wonder why they can’t get more black votes…
One of the supposed appeals of having Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee was that he would be a beacon of diversity to minorities interested in joining the Republican Party.
OK, here’s the question. How many African Americans have decided to become Republicans because of this guy?
Michael Steele, Republican National Committee
Seriously. Do you know any blacks who’ve been inspired to become a Republican due to the Steele’s chairmanship of the Republican Party?
Any politician in Washington (in America?) has one of several competing goals when making a political decision:
• do what’s good for the country
• do what’s good for local constituencies
• do what’s good for his political party
• do what’s necessary to get elected
This often presents a politican with a problem. Because what’s good for the country is not necessarily what’s good for his constituents, which is not necessarily good for his political party, which is not necessarily good for getting elected.
Which brings us to the case of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. Specter shook up Washington by announcing he was switching from the Republican Party to the Democratic party.
Specter is a moderate/conservative politician who, he believes, is not conservative enough to win the Republican Senatorial primary next year. But he does believe that he’ll win in the general election, when voters of all (or no) parties get to cast a ballot.
What got Specter into such trouble with Republicans in his state? Specter voted for the multi-billion dollar 2009 stimulus package. He felt the stimulus was good for the country. But Republicans in Congress voted overwhelmingly against the stimulus, and Specter was seen as a traitor for not joining with them.
So we see the conundrum of modern politics. People say they want independent lawmakers who will put partisanship aside, and just do the right thing. But the fact is, when principle is voted over party, there is often a political price to pay. Specter’s price was becoming a political outcast among the membrs of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.
So now Specter is a member of the Democratic Party. And already questioned are being asked about his loyalty to that Party.
So it seems like Specter is damned if he do, and damned if he don’t. And that pretty much describes the current state of American politics: just plain damned.
In the previous blog entry, we mentioned that Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, expressed his desire to see more people of color represented within the Republican Party. Steele made this statement at a meeting of Florida Republicans. At the same meeting, Jim Greer, Florida’s party chairman, said that the party would focus on using technology to invigorate younger Republicans.
The folowing charts help to explain why Republicans might be concerned about ethnic and age diversity within their party. These are from the Young Voters in the 2008 Presidential Election Fact Sheet, which was prepared by CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
This first chart is not elegant aesthetically, but it makes a powerful point about the ethnic make-up of voters in the November elections. The chart shows the ethnicity of the electorate, broken-out by different age groups.
I know this is redundant, but let me go over the numbers on the above chart:
• For voters who are 60 years old or more, the ethnic composition of the vote was 85% white, 8% black, and 4% Hispanic
• For voters aged 45-59, the ethnicity was 80% white, 12% black, and 4% Hispanic
• For voters aged 30-44, the ethnicity was 72% white, 15% black, and 7% Hispanic
• For voters aged 18-29, the ethnicity was 64% white, 19% black, and 11% Hispanic
What we’re seeing is that the under-30 population has become more ethnically diverse than older age groups. Whites are a smaller portion of the electorate, while the percentage of African Americans and Hispanics is growing.
The problem for Republicans is that African Americans and Hispanics tend to vote for Democrats. The following chart shows the percentage of people who voted for Obama in the November elections, by ethnicity and age-group: