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.
Although the 1st District is 20% black, it is a Republican-leaning area. Tim Scott won by defeating the sons of two former Governors—Strom Thurman and Carroll Campbell-in the Republican primary and Republican primary runoff elections.
The retiring incumbent for that district is Republican Henry Brown. In 2008, he just barely won, with a 52%-48% margin over Linda Ketner, a gay female Democrat who out spent Brown by $2.2 million to $1.2 million. After that Brown decided to hang up the ropes.
One of his Scott’s opponents in the November election was Democrat Ben Frasier, who is also black. Wikipedia notes:
Ben Frasier, Jr. is a frequent political candidate in South Carolina and the Democratic Party nominee for a congressional seat in the November 2010 election. He “surprised observers” in 2010 by beating retired Air Force Reserve Colonel Robert Burton in South Carolina’s 1st congressional district Democratic Party primary, with 56 percent of the vote to Burton’s 44 percent.
In 2010, James Clyburn accused Frasier and South Carolina US Senate candidate Alvin Greene of being Republican plants.
If Ketner had run this year instead of 2008, there would have been some serious fireworks and national attention. But against Fraiser, Scott won handily, getting 65% of the vote, versus 29% for Fraiser.
The question of the day is, will Scott and West join the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)? Right now, almost all of the members of the CBC are liberal or liberal leaning Democrats who represent districts that are at least 40-45%. West and Scott are conservatives who hail from districts that have large white populations. Would Scott and West want to join a group that doesn’t share their political views or district demographics? Stay tuned.
After that, there is a more over-arching question: does the election of black Republicans in white districts offer evidence that the the masses of black voters are moving to the Republican Party? Or, are these two men exception that shows the rule? Again, stay tuned.