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Minority hopefuls add color to monochrome GOP

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Republicans are poised to add a splash of color to the ranks of its officeholders in November's elections, challenging the notion that the party is a de facto white guys' club.

The slate of GOP minority candidates on the ballot this fall includes Hispanics, blacks and Vietnamese-Americans, running strongly in competitive races from Miami Beach to the Denver suburbs to Southern California.

Tim Scott, a black Republican, is rated a near-certain bet to win a House seat in South Carolina, while Marco Rubio leads the race for Florida's open Senate seat. Two Hispanic Republicans lead in the polls for governor in Nevada and New Mexico, and Indian-American Nikki Haley is poised to win the governorship in South Carolina.

Two other black Republican House candidates are in tight races to unseat Democratic incumbents.

"Our recruitment process is colorblind, but Republicans are fortunate to have a diverse group of candidates that is offering solutions to the job-killing agenda that Democrats have pursued in Washington over the last two years," said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The list of minority GOP candidates this year is bigger than in recent years, though Democrats have historically had far more success recruiting minority candidates and attracting minority support - a point driven home by Barack Obama's historic presidential victory in 2008.

Today, the sole black senator, Roland W. Burris of Illinois, and all 41 black House members are Democrats, according to the Congressional Research Service. The Democratic roster also includes 24 of the 29 Hispanic House members; New Jersey's Cuban-American Sen. Robert Menendez, the Senate's only Hispanic member; and the nation's two black governors - Deval Patrick in Massachusetts and David A. Paterson in New York.

While Democrats point with pride to their diversity and level of minority political support, a small number of those members have caused the party big headaches.

Mr. Paterson, who inherited the job when former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace, found little party support in his abortive bid to run for a full term. Reps. Charles B. Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California, two of the most senior black Democrats in the House, face charges of ethical wrongdoing.

Now heading into an election that will decide which party controls Congress, several of the GOP's minority candidates are within striking distance of a win.

In Florida, Mr. Rubio, the GOP's nominee for the state's open Senate seat, is surging in the polls in his bid to become the second Cuban-American Republican elected to the upper chamber, following in the footsteps of former Sen. Mel Martinez, also from Florida.

In South Carolina, Mr. Scott, a state lawmaker, is a virtual lock to win the seat being vacated by Rep. Henry E. Brown Jr., a Republican who is retiring. The last black Republican in the House was Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., who retired at the end of 2002.

In New Mexico, Susana Martinez, the first Hispanic woman to win a major party gubernatorial nomination, is ahead in her race, while in Nevada, Brian Sandoval, a former U.S. District Court judge, leads in that state's gubernatorial race.

"As long as they have issue positions similar to the Republican Party, which in these cases they do, it's a win-win for the party because it defuses the accusation that they are racially insensitive," said Erick Schickler, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who added that he thinks a lot of Republicans have an interest in being able to attack President Obama on policy grounds without being accused of having secret racist or religious biases. Having more religious and racial minority candidates in the party helps in that regard.

Some of the other minority stars include California Assemblyman Van Tran, a Vietnamese-American, who is trying to defeat incumbent Rep. Loretta Sanchez in the state's 47th Congressional District - a seat that was a conservative stronghold until the Democrat won it in 1996 relying in large part on the district's growing Hispanic population.

In South Carolina, Mrs. Haley, an Indian-American seen as one of the party's rising stars, is favored to become the state's next governor, and two black Republicans - Ryan L. Frazier in Colorado's 7th Congressional District and retired Lt. Col. Allen West, in Florida's 22nd Congressional District - are looking to oust incumbents in areas that backed Mr. Obama in 2008.

Mr. West told The Washington Times that Republicans have allowed black communities to be taken over by "a voice of victimization, a voice of dependency."

"I think what you are seeing now are folks that are breaking away from that and saying, 'We can live a different way,' " he said.

Mr. Frazier seemed to agree.

Republicans "have not historically engaged in a way that has been constructive in minority communities," he said. "That has been a challenge for the party, but I think it is also an opportunity with this election to engage in these respective communities on issues that are important to people: jobs and the economy; a fiscally responsive government; an accountable Congress. These are issues that speaks to folks regardless of race."

Republicans in recent years bolstered their minority ranks by electing Louisiana's Bobby Jindal as the first Indian-American governor in 2007, New Orleans' Anh "Joseph" Cao as the first Vietnamese-American member of Congress in 2008, and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele as the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2009.

Following his election, Mr. Steele promised an "off the hook" public relations campaign aimed at younger voters, including young blacks and Hispanics, by applying the party's principles to "urban-suburban hip-hop settings."

Asked this week about the number of minorities running on the GOP ticket, RNC spokesman Doug Heye provided a list showing that the number of black candidates has gone from 12 in the 2006 election to 15 this year. He also said that since mid-September, Mr. Steele has held eight fundraising events for black candidates, including for Mr. Scott, who is vying to become South Carolina's first black Republican congressman since Reconstruction.

Meanwhile, there are nine Hispanics challengers running for House seats - five of whom GOP insiders think have a shot at winning.

Despite the optimism surrounding the party's minority candidates, some political observers say Republicans hurt themselves by pushing laws targeting illegal immigrants that some view as anti-Hispanic and by embracing the "tea party."

Tea party activists have largely focused on financial and spending issues, but they have also toppled some establishment GOP figures in primaries and has been denounced for harboring some "racist elements" by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

But Mr. West, the Republican challenger to Democratic incumbent Rep. Ron Klein in Florida, said in an interview that the tea party movement deserves credit for helping to put some candidates of color on the map and that the opposition charges of racism are attempts to cut down the movement.

"I believe that is one of the messages you see coming out of the 2010 election cycle is a GOP establishment that is being challenged by common, grass-roots Americans, and you are seeing the success of people like Marco Rubio or Nikki Haley," he said. "These are people that would pretty much not fit the GOP establishment paradigm for a candidate."

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