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GOP Eyes Black Vote in 2012

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By Tom Risen, NNPA Contributor –

With two Black Republicans among the Republican freshman class, the GOP is looking into ways it can expand support from the Black community in 2012. It will be tough: the party has to sell its efforts to repeal health care reform and limit unemployment benefits to a population wracked by joblessness and with a history of supporting such programs.

But, Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Rep. Allen West (R.-FL) expect disenchantment with the economy coupled with support for socially conservative issues can build a foundation for the GOP in the Bcommunity for 2012, and beyond.

Speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference on last month, West denounced perceptions that the GOP is racist as part of the “politics of character assassination.”

"Liberal progressivism evolved after our Constitution. It has repeatedly failed all over the world. So, why do we think it could be successful here in the United States of America?,” West opined to his audience. “America cannot survive as a bureaucratic nanny state.”

Scott also believed the GOP can claim diversity and seek a more multicultural voter base, thanks to a recent crop of minority Republican politicians. Yet, Scott also recognized that the Democratic Party’s ties to the Black community will be difficult to dislodge while the Republican Party is pitching a return to limited government. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 Black voters have often and overwhelmingly voted in favor of Democratic candidates.

“We’ll have to spend a lot of money and we’ll need a good communications strategy against an Obama campaign that will attract a lot of young people and minorities,” said Scott. “But, if the Black vote remains locked at more than 90 percent for Democrats in 2012, people will think the Black vote is not in play, which will weaken its impact on American politics.”

While West joined the Democratic-leaning Congressional Black Caucus at the start of the 112th Congress, Scott declined. Scott explained to NNPA that while he hoped to work with the Caucus on economic development and education he did not expect the Congressional group to shift party allegiances in the near future, despite socially Conservative leanings among Black voters.

“If Black people vote their issues they will vote Republican more often than not, but it’s very difficult to overcome the emotional connection to something, even if the facts of their decision don’t line up with the intent.” Said Scott.

Both West and Scott have spoken out against same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Republicans in California received a boost from Black voters in 2008 with the Proposition 8 ballot initiative to repeal a court ruling in favor of gay marriage, and again in 2010 in the vote against the Proposition 19 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana.

Yet, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) observed that because of the recession the current GOP strategy is heavily based on fiscal conservatism and predicted his party's focus will “be on jobs and not social issues in the coming election.” Scott agreed, saying the right outreach strategy to attract low-income voters is to pursue the government spending cuts as part of that platform without alienating that voting bloc.

“We have to do a better job of stressing how we can encourage entrepreneurship in communities and the improve job searches better public education,” said Scott. “I was raised by a mother who worked 16 hours a day to keep us off welfare. To help the unemployed and those in need we need to look beyond the compassion of immediate gratification spending that is already killing our finances.”

The February jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor indicated Black unemployment is at 15.3 percent, which is the highest of any demographic in the country. With the Black community struggling to find working-class jobs, West has advocated stricter immigration enforcement as a chief plank for the 2012 campaign.

“When you look at immigration it is a multi-headed hydra. It is an economic issue, it is an education issue, a national security issue, it’s a health care issue and it’s a local criminality issue,” West told NNPA. “We have to start looking at it that way, and not allowing people to pigeonhole us into thinking that we’re xenophobic, because that’s not the case.”

One of Scott’s key strategies to win over Black voters regarding public education is private sector reform, where he cited competitive federal Pell grants to improve schools in absence of increases to education spending.

The Affordable Health Care Act is also in the crosshairs for spending cuts sought by Scott and West. Alice Rivlin, a senior economist with the Brookings Institute, said GOP efforts to cut or repeal the law would “make gaining the Black vote difficult” for the GOP in 2012 because more than 30 million low-income voters in the Black and Latino community have benefited from its coverage.

While low-income minorities benefit from the law, Congressional Black Caucus Member Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) recognized the risk that it could alienate Conservative voters. Clyburn compared the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act to former President Leonard B. Johnson’s declaration that enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 meant “signing away” Democratic influence with Conservative-leaning Southern states for “at least a generation.”

 

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