- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

Blacks in both major political parties have felt “marginalized” for decades, but Republicans hope a new strategy will help them reach out to black voters and politicians.

Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican Party, formed the “Give Us a Chance and We’ll Give You a Choice” strategy after the 2004 election showed gains for President Bush among black voters.

More than a dozen black politicians are running on the Republican ticket in 2006 for Senate and House seats, governorships and other statewide races.

It could turn out to be the most diverse Republican slate since the mid-1990s, said J.C. Watts Jr., chairman of GOPAC, a Republican political action committee. Mr. Watts won a House seat in Oklahoma in 1994, becoming the first black Republican to reach Congress since Sen. Edward W. Brooke III, Massachusetts Republican, who served from 1967 to 1979.

“I’ve often said that most black people don’t think alike, most black people just vote alike, and if Republicans understood black people better, you would have 70 to 75 percent of black people voting Republican,” Mr. Watts said.

Mr. Mehlman’s mantra that “the party of Lincoln will not be whole until more African-Americans come back home” has created a movement that black Republicans said they will use to make significant gains in the largely monolithic, Democratic-voting base.

“The black vote is the most marginalized in the country” because Democrats know that no matter what their candidates look like or say, blacks will vote for them, and Republicans will find a way to win without them, Mr. Watts said.

Black Democrats said the change would be welcome.

“I think it is a great thing that both Democrats and Republicans are going to compete for our votes,” said Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

He said as long as both parties are willing to “substantively” address the disparities between blacks and whites and virtually every other minority, “it is good for America.”

Retired Army Lt. Col. Frances P. Rice, chairwoman of the National Black Republican Association (NBRA), said her group aims to “enlighten” black voters about the Republican Party and make the black community one that supports two parties.

She said the Democrats’ insistence that blacks rely on socialism — welfare, public housing, public schools — is destroying the community.

“Blacks after 40 years of Democrat control are complaining about the same things: poorly performing schools, dilapidated public housing,” Col. Rice said. “Socialism has not worked anywhere it has been tried. Why should we do it here?”

Groups such as NBRA are getting their message across with candidates like Richard Holt, a 25-year-old Republican who is running for the House seat in Ohio being vacated by Rep. Ted Strickland, a Democrat.

He said the time for black diversity in both parties is now and that the movement will be successful despite attacks by Democratic activists.

“It is difficult because of people like Harry Belafonte and Dick Gregory calling us ‘whitey’ and tyrants when all we want to do is make sure that our families are strong, that we own our own businesses and that our children get a good education,” Mr. Holt said.

A victory for Mr. Holt would be historic on several fronts. He would become the youngest man ever elected to Congress. But more important, Mr. Holt said, is an opportunity to be a role model for young black men.

“Typically, black men my age are not politically involved and not Republican, and I am. More blacks are moving from the inner city to the suburbs. We have a good education, we have good jobs and we can see now that we can succeed, and socialism is not the answer,” he said.

Mr. Watt said he would welcome any new black Republican congressmen into the CBC.

“I just hope it is not a public relations game. … The issue is how we address the issues facing black Americans, not putting up a public face or what someone looks like,” he said.

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