RNC chair update: Who's least offputting to minorities?

The selection of the GOP's next chairman now centers around the party's struggles to appeal to minority voters.

Published January 22, 2009 9:20PM (EST)

Politico notes in a new article that the fight to lead the Republican National Committee now centers around race, something that might be surprising at first glance, considering the party tends to preach colorblindness. But, thanks to the drubbing Republican candidates took from minority voters in 2008, the six candidates vying to become RNC chair are each touting themselves as the best-suited to lead outreach efforts to what are now Democratic demographics.

The race for RNC chair features two black candidates, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. On the other hand, among the white contenders are former Mike Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman, now infamous for his distribution of the song “Barack the Magic Negro,” and South Carolina party chief Katon Dawson, formerly a member of an all-white country club.

Dawson also caught a little heat for a 2005 statement he made at the University of South Carolina, in which he described school-integration busing policies this way: “Government reached into my life and grabbed me and shook me at the age of 15.”

A Dawson backer says of his candidate, “I judge people on what they’ve got in their hearts, and Katon’s not a racist guy. He has the issue of belonging to the country club, but he also has a lot of pluses in his column on race relations, as well.” Those pluses apparently refer to Dawson’s support of, and by, black committee members (of which there are three). If this is the best the Republicans can muster on racial issues, they shouldn’t count on African Americans to get them out of the hole they're currently in. “Not racist in our hearts -- plus we have black friends!” isn’t going to get the party too far.

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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