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What GOP can learn from Cochran's use of blacks to win

By Crystal Wright
updated 12:36 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Crystal Wright looks at how black voters in Mississippi were used to win the Senate primary
  • Thad Cochran appealed to black Democratic voters out of desperation, she argues
  • The Democrat-dominated Congressional Black Caucus applauds his use of blacks
  • Cochran's victory wasn't a watershed moment and didn't mean what many think, she says

Editor's note: Crystal Wright is a conservative writer who runs the blog ConservativeBlackChick.com. She also is a principal at the Baker Wright Group, a communications and public relations firm. You can follow her on Twitter @GOPBlackChick. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Black voters allowed themselves to be used by Sen. Thad Cochran to win the Republican primary runoff for Mississippi's U.S. Senate seat.

Cochran beat state Sen. Chris McDaniel by targeting black Democrats and getting them to vote for him in a tight race. It was a brilliant political strategy in a state that allows open primaries, where voters can cross party lines to vote. It also showed blacks -- and the Republican Party that ignores them -- that black voters can wield political influence.

Cochran won the runoff by a little over 6,000 votes. The runoff was triggered because no candidate garnered 50% of the vote in the first primary, which Cochran lost to McDaniel by some 1,000 votes.

But make no mistake, Cochran appealed to black Democratic voters out of desperation. When was the last time we heard Cochran reaching out to ask for the black vote in the last six terms he's served as senator?

Crystal Wright
Crystal Wright

Cochran's campaign suggested McDaniel was a tea party radical. The tea party has become code for "racist" among many black Americans, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic. Black Democratic voters allowed themselves to be exploited by Cochran's boogeyman -- the tea party nonsense -- without looking into the policies and records of each candidate.

McDaniel was a conservative candidate opposed to illegal immigration, which harms black Americans. The black unemployment rate has been higher than the national average for the past five years and blacks often compete for the same jobs as undocumented workers.

Refusing to concede the election, McDaniel and other conservatives said Cochran played dirty politics by reaching out to black Democrats to win. It's true these same voters will likely vote for the Democratic nominee in the fall. But I suspect McDaniel is just angry he didn't think of the idea first.

Take: Behind Cochran's win
Cochran win touches racial nerve
Tea party rival refuses to concede

It was distasteful to see conservatives like Laura Ingraham accuse Cochran of race-baiting because he decided to ask black Democrats to vote for him. How is asking blacks to cast a vote for you race-baiting?

While I don't agree with how Cochran won and wish blacks were more informed about their vote, Cochran bothered to ask blacks to vote for him, something that apparently makes some Republicans cringe.

Even the Democrat-dominated Congressional Black Caucus has now applauded his use of blacks to win. Go figure.

Many blacks would say the Republican Party only works in earnest for the white vote. Presidential nominee Mitt Romney did a good job of winning the majority of the white vote (60%) in 2012, but he lost the election because he ignored the minority and woman voters -- that is, he hardly bothered to ask for their votes.

This Mississippi primary race is a harbinger of what can happen to the GOP in future national elections if Republicans continue to ignore the black vote.

They will lose.

Instead of allowing themselves to vote solely based on misleading headlines and misinformation, blacks need to be voting based upon candidates' positions on issues and how they affect them.

Come November, I doubt Cochran will really care about earning the black vote and taking the Republican message of equal opportunity and economic empowerment to blacks. Blacks just believed the hype about McDaniel being a racist and didn't dig any deeper.

Cochran will run in the general election ignoring black voters, just as the GOP has done for the past 40 years. This isn't a watershed moment. It's another example of blacks throwing away their political influence -- as they have on the Democratic Party since 1964 -- and getting nothing in return.

Cochran demonstrates what many black conservatives already know: GOP candidates will only reach out to black voters, kicking and screaming, as a last resort to win.

This isn't the path to future Republican victories in truly competitive national races in a country where census data show the white population declining while minorities are growing.

The big takeaway from the Cochran win is that Republicans had better get serious.

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Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

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