Another "year of the black Republican"?

The GOP's trying to recruit minority candidates, but the party's last big attempt failed


Alex Koppelman
October 8, 2009 11:15PM (UTC)

Back in 2006, in the days before Barack Obama was the Democratic Party's standard bearer, the GOP had high hopes. They wanted to win over black voters, and they had a plan to do it, beginning with three high-profile African-American candidates: Ken Blackwell was running for governor in Ohio, former NFL star Lynn Swann was taking on Ed Rendell in the gubernatorial race in Pennsylvania and MIchael Steele was vying to become one of Maryland's senators.

For a little while, it almost seemed like the plan was going to work. The Washington Post even headlined one story on the three men with the question, "The Year of the Black Republican?"

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As it turned out, though, 2006 was the year that black Republicans got crushed at the ballot box. Blackwell lost by 23 points, Swann by 20. Steele came the closest to victory, and he even got embarrassed, losing by 10 points. To some extent, it was a result of the anti-Republican feeling that swept the whole nation that year, but in part, it was that Blackwell, Swann and Steele had been thrown to the wolves, running in races they had little chance of winning. (Swann especially -- he was a political neophyte going up against an incumbent governor who'd served two terms as mayor of Philadelphia and is the master of Pennsylvania politics.)

So it's hard to get too excited about Republicans' latest minority recruitment efforts, as discussed in a CQ story by John McArdle. McArdle does correctly point out that "the GOP has a real shot of electing its first black member to Congress since former Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., left in 2002 and only the fifth black Republican in the House since Reconstruction." And there are a couple candidates, like North Carolina's Lou Huddleston, who have a real shot at victory.

Others, though, seem like a latter-day Swann: People who might help imrpove Republicans' reputation among black voters, but who are ultimately all but certain to fail. McArdle mentioned, for instance, Charles Lollar, who " is ready to formally enter the race in Maryland’s 5th District against House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer."

Good luck to Lollar -- beating an incumbent is tough enough, but knocking off a majority leader is almost impossible. In 2008, Hoyer won re-election with a rather astounding 50 point margin. In 2006, no Republican bothered to run against him, though a Green Party candidate did manage to pull 16 percent of the votes, leaving Hoyer only 84 percent.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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