- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The partisanship of black voters is showing signs of change after 40 years as the Democrats’ most loyal voting bloc, demonstrated by the number of black politicians running strong campaigns for statewide offices under both major political parties.

National figures show political discourse moving in directions other than those that have dominated the black public conversation.

“When you look at a Harold Ford or Deval Patrick in Massachusetts going to be the next governor, and even on the other side with Republicans like Michael Steele in Maryland and Ken Blackwell in Ohio, it shows that we can get beyond these absurd categories,” said Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, who is among the first of a new line of successful populist black candidates. “It means good things for the future and that … we’re moving in the right direction.”

Mr. Ford, who represents Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District, praised Mr. Obama, who has been profiled in several national outlets including the cover of Time as a prospective president, providing a successful, elected image of the black politician. Mr. Ford hopes to join him in the Senate as his state’s first black senator.

“I love this man. Senator Obama’s leadership transcends all these antiquated, silly ideas about what our politics is supposed to be,” Mr. Ford said at a campaign stop with Mr. Obama yesterday at Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Nashville. “It is no longer about sitting to the left or the right wherever you are, but the new politics is about either moving forward or getting stuck in the past.”

Some black leaders said the election tomorrow could determine how fast bipartisanship extends in black communities across the country if Mr. Steele and Mr. Ford win their races to reach the U.S. Senate. Both men trail in polls, but well within the margin of error.

“If this happened, you would have African-American representatives who are speaking to every area of African-American political views under the umbrella of the U.S. Senate. That covers it all,” said Oliver Kellman, a black political consultant who switched parties because of his disdain for the “pigeonhole politics” of Democrats.

He said Hispanics, with the 2004 election of Mel Martinez, Florida Republican, and Ken Salazar, Colorado Democrat, achieved something that blacks had not accomplished: electing two senators at the same time. When Rep. Robert Menendez was appointed to fill a vacant Senate seat from New Jersey, Hispanics had three disparate senators: a Catholic conservative in Mr. Martinez, a liberal Democrat in Mr. Menendez and a centrist in Mr. Salazar.

This growth in political power and influence of Hispanics that has forced black voters to rethink their politics, said political consultant Sam Riddle, who was the national advance specialist for Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign.

Blacks could achieve a similar lineup tomorrow, with Mr. Steele as the conservative Catholic, Mr. Ford as the centrist and Mr. Obama as the populist liberal.

“The political dynamics are such in America today, whether Ford and Steele win or not, their campaigns have been so successful appealing to all voters, it means that blacks no longer have to be on the phony political windmill,” Mr. Riddle said.

He said the days of the domination of black politics by “civil rights pimps” are over, and that a new black politician is emerging.

“The ideology that both Steele, Ford and Obama espouse goes away from the victimhood mentality focused on welfare and social programs exclusively that is unelectable and that has hindered blacks for too long,” Mr. Riddle said.

Black candidates are rising in state politics as well with Mr. Patrick far ahead in polls in Massachusetts and widely expected to become the second elected black governor in U.S. history. Mr. Blackwell trails in his bid to become governor of Ohio.

“I think it would be the first step for African-Americans toward a new political agenda, where in order to win their votes, you have to talk about the real serious, broad political issues, and you won’t be able to just say, ‘I support civil rights,’ and win,” said Ward Connerly, founder of the American Civil Rights Institute, a group working to end racial preferences.

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