- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

Forget Ohio. Forget Florida.Forget NASCAR dads. The real determining factor in the 2004 presidential election very well may be minorities. And if the past is indeed prologue, Sen. John Kerry is fighting a losing battle.

The presumptive Democratic nominee has been presumptive about his electoral base. Criticism about Mr. Kerry’s outreach to minorities is not new and has been growing in recent weeks. Much of the political discontent began with Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill’s listing, in a newspaper article last month, of five white men as Mr. Kerry’s closest advisers and an announcement of new staff members in which only a handful of the 30 names belonged to blacks and Hispanics.

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and James Clyburn, and Raul Yzaguirre, the president of the National Council of La Raza, have all chided Mr. Kerry for failing to put black and Hispanic leaders into senior campaign positions.

“The last thing the Democratic Party needs in 2004 is to repeat the failures of its most recent past on matters of race and inclusion,” Miss Brazile wrote in a recent edition of Roll Call.

Miss Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000 (the first black woman to hold that post in her party) is not angling for a role in the Kerry campaign and is not whining about a perceived slight. She knows politics and knows that if you’ve got problems with your base, you’re fighting an uphill battle.

Look no further than Maryland.KathleenKennedy Townsend would be governor today had she not ignored her electoral base in 2002. Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat, readily willadmitthatMrs. Townsend’s failure to involve Maryland’s large black American community in the leadership of her campaign — or to consult with black leaders on her choice for lieutenant governor — created an image problem that could not be erased. She failed to mobilize her base and she lost the election.

Despite this recent history, Mr. Kerry has already made the same mistake. He has taken the minority vote for granted, and his actions have been perceived by some as patronizing and condescending. That’s not a good way to treat your base.

By contrast, President Bush has not only secured his base, but he’s also gone a long way toward establishing himself as an inclusive president. When it comes to diversity, he’s got some pretty impressive names on the team: Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser; Colin Powell, secretary of state; Alphonso Jackson, secretary of housing and urban development (replacing Mel Martinez); Elaine Chao, secretary of labor; Rod Paige, secretary of education; Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel. These aren’t just names on a list. They are minorities who continue to play an important role in the administration, formulating policy and message.

If the 2004 election is a numbers game, it might be more helpful to look at the electoral map in terms of white, black and brown rather than the traditional blue and red.

Blacks made up 10 percent of the vote nationally in 2000, but were 25 percent in some Southern states, according to Voter News Service.

Despite predictions that Mr. Bush will win much of the South, “there are states in the South where a substantial black turnout could carry a state — including Arkansas, Georgia,Floridaand Louisiana,” says David Bositis, senior researcher with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonprofit think tank on public-policy issues concerning blacks.

In fact, Republican strategists crunched the numbers and concluded that if Mr. Bush won the same percentage of minority voters in 2004 that he did in 2000, he would lose by 3 million votes. That’s why the White House has courted the black and Hispanic vote so strongly.

The Kerry campaign has either ignored these numbers or feels that it can rely on white, affluent, well-educated voters to win in November. But with most polls showing a virtual dead heat, ignoring a critical voting bloc — particularly one that has been an historic part of your base — is a big mistake. Paying lip service to your base is a bigger mistake — especially for a guy who said a few months ago he wanted to be viewed as the “second” black president, a reference to Bill Clinton often being referred to as the first unofficial black president. Words have meaning, and actions speak louder than words. Mr. Kerry has failed on both counts. If you only have one chance to make a good first impression, Mr. Kerry may have already lost the battle for minority voters.

In a speech last month at New Northside Baptist Church in St. Louis, Mr. Kerry referenced James 2:14: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claim to have faith but has no deeds.” Perhaps he was talking about himself.

Jonathan P. Decker is an assistant professor of broadcast journalism at Howard University.

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