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Republican presidential candidates, led by Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, are bearing the brunt of the mistakes of the current administration. With President George W. Bush’s approval rating reaching an all-time low of 28% in light of the public’s sentiments about the war, an April Gallup poll indicated that voters prefer the Democratic Party 51% to 38% in the next presidential election. In the midst of sagging poll numbers and lingering controversies, will Republicans come up with a formula to increase their voter base by wooing more black votes?
Thus far, the answer seems to be no.
“To date, the Republicans have done nothing to address the issues important to the African American community, such as Katrina, urban policy, healthcare, and employment,” charges Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political scientist and the author of Black Presidential Politics in America. A recent study by AARP and The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies polled 700 likely African American voters in South Carolina and found that nearly all think presidential candidates should commit to action on affordable healthcare (97%) and retirement security (96%), while many felt that the three most important issues facing the country were the war in Iraq (56%), economy/jobs (40%) and healthcare (28%).
In the first Republican debate, the candidates focused mainly on foreign policy issues, immigration, tax cuts, and abortion. In the Democrats’ first debate, though the war in Iraq was at the top of the agenda, the candidates also tackled healthcare, education, and poverty.
Other experts concur: “There’s been no discussion of any of the issues that are acutely affecting African Americans,” suggests Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of Republicans and the Black Vote. Both Giuliani and Romney declined invitations to address the nonpartisan National Urban League convention in St. Louis this July.
Some experts propose that the Republicans have historically not adequately courted the black vote because of their discomfort with addressing race relations in this country. “On the whole, white Republican leaders have not done the work of looking racism in the face, thinking about it in their society, thinking about it in their homes, in their communities, and getting to a place of deeper empathy,” points out David Campt, Ph.D., an Independent who was a senior policy adviser for President Bill Clinton’s Initiative on Race and a visiting scholar and lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. “So they can’t talk about [the issues] in a way that has any resonance for African Americans.”
We may have to wait before we see Republican attention shift to African Americans. “At this point the candidates are trying to speak in more global terms by trying to introduce themselves to voters with hopes of connecting with the populace who have yet to make up their minds,” says Fauntroy. Walters contends that the Republican strategy is to appeal to their core constituents in order to win the primary elections and thus their party’s nomination.
“The Republican base is conservative and controlled largely