If anyone could lay claim totheir state’s Republican Party, it’s Deborah Burstion-Donbraye of Cleveland. The 53-year-old international business consultant is the former outreach director for the Ohio Republican Party, for starters. She helped deliver the swing state to President Bush in his 2004 re-election bid in which he garnered 16 percent of the black vote.
Among her Republican credentials, Mrs. Burstion-Donbraye worked in several high-level positions during the Reagan and Bush administrations of the late 1980s and was the press secretary for George W. Bush’s Texas gubernatorial campaign in 1994. In the 1980s, she was an assistant national desk editor and her now-deceased husband, Larry Wade, an editorial writer for The Washington Times.
During the 2008 primary season, Mrs. Burstion-Donbraye cast her conservative lot with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. She staunchly opposes abortion.
“But there’s been an ‘Obama’ sign on my lawn since Super Tuesday,” she readily admits about her unusual support for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama.
“I went from a Huckababe to an Obamamama,” she says.
Or you could call her an “Obamacan.”
“What’s an Obamacan? A Republican who can’t afford health care insurance,” she quips.
Mrs. Burstion-Donbraye can be counted among the growing number of high-profile black Republicans, including Gen. Colin L.Powell, commentator Armstrong Williams and former congressman J.C. Watts, who say they might not vote for the Republican candidate this fall.
These black Republicans are struggling with the historic significance of the Obama candidacy. Their conflict is just one example of the ways in which race will affect the outcome of the general election between Mr. Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.
“It’s a big dilemma,” Mrs. Burstion-Donbraye says. “I’ve been a Republican all my life, but I don’t see what bone with what meat [the Republicans] are giving blacks to bite into.”
Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a black Republican whose name is mentioned among potential McCain running mates, expresses incredulity about the historical notion.
“The novelty of history wears off pretty quickly,” Mr. Steele says. “What happens when [black Republicans] wake up the next day after the election and realize that you voted for a man to be president that you are totally philosophically opposed to?”
“As an African-American, I am very proud of the accomplishments Barack Obama’s been able to achieve,” he says.
However, Mr. Steele remembers what Mr. Obama said about him during his 2006 campaign for U.S. senator.
“He said this [election] is not about race; that I seemed like an affable fellow, but my resume was a little thin to be a United States senator. Here we are a year later and this individual is running for president with less of a resume than I have. I think Barack himself makes the point,” Mr. Steele says.
“This election, when you are weighing the next president, is about leadership, experience, judgment, vision, all of those things before you even get to race,” he says.
A New York Times/CBS poll conducted earlier this month gives Mr. Obama an 83 percent favorable rating among blacks but a 31 percent favorable rating among whites who are decided. Mr. McCain received a 5 percent favorable rating among blacks and a 35 percent favorable rating among whites who are decided.
Polls have indicated that Mr. Obama enjoys the support of at least 90 percent of black voters, so it is doubtful that Mr. McCain will get beyond Mr. Bush’s overall 11 percent in the 2004 election.
Mr. Obama predicted he will draw 30 percent of black voters in the South, which will help him win critical Electoral College votes in the region that no Democrat has won in significant numbers since 1964. That’s a tall order. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Georgia voters puts Mr. McCain ahead, 48 percent to 39 percent.
At the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s national convention in Cincinnati last week, Mr. McCain - who had declined previous invitations to speak before the civil rights group - talked about an education-reform package, which includes support for school vouchers, teacher certification and merit pay. He was introduced by Mr. Steele, who acknowledged that Mr. Obama likely will get most of the black vote but praised Mr. McCain for not ignoring the NAACP this year.
Education was a safe enough issue for Mr. McCain at the NAACP convention because it ranks high among black concerns, outpacing the economy in a poll conducted by Essence magazine, as reported in CNN’s “Black in America” series this week.
Still, several commentators chastised Mr. McCain on his voting record on education, contending it does not support his comments at the NAACP. They also noted his 1980s opposition to establishing a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama made his third appearance before the NAACP, where he continued to stress his personal responsibility rhetoric, which the Rev. Jesse L.Jackson characterized in off-mike comments as “talking down” to blacks.
What Mr. Obama apparently understands is that a great many blacks are conservative on social and moral issues.
The pro-life Mrs. Burstion-Donbraye explains how she can vote for the pro-choice Mr. Obama by saying “the bottom line is that you vote for who is best for you and who is best for our country.”
She intends to fight for the issues in other ways, such as through her religious affiliations and private donations to pro-life groups.
Not all black conservatives are conflicted about their allegiance to the GOP and a call for all blacks to vote blindly for Mr. Obama.
The National Black Republican Association released ads to air on black-oriented radio stations this month to attack Mr. Obama as “an arrogant elitist who turned his back on blacks and his own country.”
On Bookerrising.blogspot.com, Jesse Lee Peterson, head of the Brother Organization for a New Destiny (BOND) and a conservative talk-show host, asked, “How did black Republicans get to a point where they’re willing to abandon their own ‘values’ to vote for a socialist?”
So the early 20th-century Negro debate between liberal civil rights intellectual W.E.B. Dubois and conservative “accommodationist” Booker T. Washington carries on via the airwaves and blogosphere of the 21st century.
If nothing else, the 2008 Obama presidential candidacy dispels the notion of a monolithic body politic of black voters that now pits generation against generation and ideology against history.