- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

Fallout from comments made by incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott could cause Republicans to lose key swing votes among white suburbanites, and harm longer-term efforts to pick up new support among blacks, some analysts and Republican strategists say.
Black Americans traditionally vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, so a more immediate concern for Republicans is that the Lott situation could alienate suburban swing voters, most of whom are white, said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.
"The critical question with Senator Lott is the educated suburban vote," Mr. Gans said. "The black vote at this point is not going to go Republican unless Republicans radically change their stances on a range of issues. The question Lott raises is a question of whether there is anything left in the Republican Party of the party of Abraham Lincoln. That is of more interest to suburban voters."
Rich Galen, a Republican strategist, said swing voters' reaction to the situation "is the key concern" for Republicans.
"The notion of the Republican Party in any reasonable time frame getting 50 percent of the African-American vote it's just not going to happen," he said. "Moderate and independent voters watch these kind of events for cues as to whether they're going to feel good about voting for someone down the road."
Mr. Lott sparked a furor when, in paying homage to 100-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond on Dec. 5, he said he was proud Mississippi had voted for Mr. Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 as the States' Rights Democratic candidate on a segregationist platform. Mr. Lott has since repeatedly apologized for those remarks.
Since 1976, Democratic presidential candidates have received 80 percent to 90 percent of the black vote. In 2000, the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, received 90 percent of the black vote and George W. Bush got just 8 percent, according to data from the Voter News Service.
But Mr. Lott's remarks threaten Republican appeals to white, educated, suburban swing voters who tend to be socially moderate.
"The Republicans have not made any progress in terms of black voters, so obviously in the short term this [situation] isn't going to change much," said David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. "Swing voters would obviously be more important in the short term."
Mr. Bositis said top Republicans are concerned with Northern voters in areas such as suburban Philadelphia, which once were solidly Republican but more recently have voted Democratic. Vice President Al Gore won Pennsylvania in 2000, but only barely, so President Bush has a chance of wooing these swing voters in 2004 if the Republican Party doesn't alienate them, he said.
A Republican strategist said the swing voter "stew" also includes white, Southern suburbanites around cities such as Dallas, Orlando and Raleigh who are generally more "Republican-oriented" and conservative, but "don't want to be perceived as aligned with any groups that are anti-minority."
Some analysts and advocates said the situation does have the potential to hinder Republicans' longer-term goal of gaining more black voters.
Alvin Williams, president of Black America's Political Action Committee, said young, college-educated blacks in particular are beginning to consider that the Republican Party and Mr. Lott's comments will jeopardize that.
Mr. Williams said more young, college-educated blacks are "disillusioned" with Democrats for taking them for granted and do not yet see "a welcome mat" from the Republican Party.
These younger blacks are interested in climbing the economic ladder, so they potentially identify with Republicans' stance on many fiscal issues.
But now, he said, Mr. Lott will be "a lightning rod on this issue" and the situation "threatens what little gains we have made and any that we could make in coming years" to attract blacks to the Republican Party.
Other conservative leaders disagreed.
The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said black voters will accept Mr. Lott's "immediate apology and repentance" and that Mr. Lott's remarks will not affect the silent revival of blacks turning to the Republican Party.
"As African-Americans look more carefully at the Republican platform, that totally is against bias and segregation, they will have a stronger interest in Republican principles. They want less taxes, less government, more freedom they know the welfare system is a failure, otherwise Clinton would have never signed the bill," Mr. Sheldon said.
Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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