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Commentary: Why is the GOP scared of black voters?

  • Story Highlights
  • Martin: Republican outreach efforts to black voters are lacking
  • Martin: Democrats win the black vote because they try for it
  • Martin: GOP could appeal to blacks on immigration, education, health care
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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Join Roland Martin on CNN.com Live Video at 11 a.m. ET Wednesday when he will respond to some of your "Sound Off" comments.

(CNN) -- That's right, I said it. And I mean it.

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Roland Martin says the GOP is missing its chance to win black voters.

The GOP as a whole is completely scared of black voters, and the actions by the front-runners for the party's 2008 nomination show they are continuing the same silly political games the party has played for years.

Oh, don't bother tossing out the appointments of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state by Bush. Yes, they are African-American. But I'm speaking of the party.

Ever since Richard Nixon ran for the White House, the GOP has run on a "Southern Strategy," meant to alienate blacks in an effort to garner white voters. They've worked the strategy to perfection. When he was head of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman apologized for that strategy as he sought to make inroads among black voters.

Republicans will tell you they are the party of Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but their outreach efforts to black voters are lacking.

Oh, yes, I know. Democrats have a stranglehold on the black vote, receiving upward of 90 percent in national elections. A significant part of that is a result of the party seeing blacks as the backbone of the party. But the reality is that when you have only one party that truly makes a play for those voters, of course you will see such disparities!

That's why it's dumb, dumb, and dumber for the leading GOP candidates to skip Thursday's debate hosted by Tavis Smiley and airing on PBS.

Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Sen. John McCain have all cited "scheduling conflicts" as the reason for their lack of attendance to debate at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, even though Smiley personnel tell me they began discussions with then-RNC head Mehlman in February 2006. When the debate was announced earlier this year, along with a Democratic forum held in June at Howard University, the RNC promised their candidates would speak.

But those of us who follow politics knew that wasn't going to happen.

This summer, all of the Republican candidates, save Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, skipped the NAACP and the National Urban League conventions. OK, I get the former, but the Urban League? President Bush has spoken there several times as president!

The GOP keeps blowing a big opportunity by ignoring blacks. And what about the debate sponsored by Spanish language TV station Univision? Only McCain accepted the invite.

Today's generation of blacks and Latinos shouldn't be seen as the same as their parents. An increasing number of people are refusing to identify themselves with a party, and looking at issues. Latinos have been a huge part of the Republican outreach, but the immigration debate is turning that in a different direction.

Why should the GOP talk to black voters, and what would they talk about?

First, I can tell you that immigration is huge in the black community, and gets folks riled up in a hurry (you ought to see my talk show lines when this comes up). Education and health care are also major. And every GOP debate has been about faith in the public square, and we know that plays well with black voters.

Now, when it comes to the war in Iraq, the GOP can forget that tune. No one is listening. And they are completely uneven on the issue of civil rights.

Here is an example that further explains the GOP's stupidity on this topic.

Several years ago, a Republican in the Dallas-Fort Worth area was trying to unseat then-Rep. Martin Frost, a heavily entrenched Democrat. That summer, a series of black churches were being burned. My good friend, Michael Williams, a third-generation black Republican, was planning to hold a fundraiser at his home for the GOP candidate.

He called the campaign and said it would be a good idea for the candidate to make a statement on the burnings, condemning them and saying it didn't make sense. The campaign said no.

Williams called back and made the suggestion again, and the response was they didn't want to seem as if they were pandering to the black community. He laughed at that because the campaign was bringing then-Rep. J.C. Watts, a prominent black Republican, to visit black churches with the candidate. Hello! That's pandering.

So Williams told his wife, Donna, what the candidate said. She replied, "Any man who is such a coward that he can't speak against churches being burned is not welcome in my home."

The fundraiser was called off.

Here was a simple opportunity to actually show that he cared, but the candidate was so scared to say something, he turned off a campaign donor.

Will speaking at one debate turn around decades of black support for the Democrats? Nope. But not speaking will just mean business as usual, and the GOP needs less of that.

Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning, multifaceted journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian Communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at www.rolandsmartin.com

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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