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GOP Leaders Fret Over Debate No-Shows, Minority Vote

September 19, 2007

As I recently detailed, in recent weeks the GOP White House hopefuls have sent a powerful message to minority voters by skipping the Univision, NAACP, and upcoming PBS presidential debates. Now, even many Republican proponents of the race card worry the GOP has overplayed its hand.
As the Washington Post reports, Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp, Ken Mehlman and other leading lights of the Republican Party voiced concerns that the GOP's debate no-shows are alienating voters inside - and outside - minority communities. Newt Gingrich, who termed the suffering of New Orleans residents in the wake of Hurricane Katrina the result of their own "failure of citizenship," complained:

"For Republicans to consistently refuse to engage in front of an African American or Latino audience is an enormous error. I hope they will reverse their decision and change their schedules. I see no excuse -- this thing has been planned for months, these candidates have known about it for months. It's just fundamentally wrong. Any of them who give you that scheduling-conflict answer are disingenuous. That's baloney."

Former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman also sounded the alarm regarding the impact of the cancelled Univision event and the frontunner no-show nexus of Romney-Giuliani-McCain-Thompson at next week's PBS forum hosted by Tavis Smiley at predominantly black Morgan State University. A concerned Mehlman worried that the Party is selling itself short when it comes to African-American and Hispanic voters.

"Every one of these candidates I've talked to is sincerely committed to offering real choices to African American and Hispanic voters, and in my opinion have records that will appeal to many of these voters."

(Mehlman, of course, has a proven track record of getting those records wrong. During a July 2005 speech to the NAACP, he confused victim and villain in the dragging death of James Byrd, one of the worst hate crimes in recent history. Mehlman described Byrd as "a racist killer in east Texas, who the president brought to justice." Mehlman's error was sadly ironic, as it was Bush's bizarre, smirking comment about the Byrd case and hate crime legislation during his second debate with Al Gore in 2000 ["The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what's going to happen to them? They're going to be put to death"] that unnerved so many American voters.)
Be that as it may, the Republican braintrust is right to worry. The snubbing of minority organizations' presidential events combined with the rabid anti-immigration animus currently on display among Republican primary voters is certain to cause the GOP pain at the ballot box. As Cecilia Munoz of the National Council of La Raza put it, "It's not just that they are not coming. It's that some of them are visibly insulting us." A frustrated Tavis Smiley concluded:

"There is a pattern here. When you tell every black and brown request that you get throughout the primary process that 'no, there's a scheduling problem.' That's a pattern...Are we really supposed to believe that all four of these guys couldn't make it because of scheduling?"

The numbers tell the tale. In 2006, the GOP showed no progress among black voters, who continued to back Democratic candidates at historically high levels approaching 90%. More telling, Republicans are losing the ground they had gained among the nation's rapidly growing Hispanic communities, now totaling 43 million. While John Kerry carried only 53% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, by 2006 Democrats won 69% support among Hispanics who went to the polls.
Republicans in the Age of Rove may play to their base, but they can also read the tea leaves of demographic change. The xenophobia and hate-mongering of the current GOP presidential field puts the party on the wrong side of history. And finally, at least some Republicans are acknowledging that.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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