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GOP Still Struggles for Congressional Diversity, Even With Recent Progress

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina is one of two black Republicans in Congress, but that could change after November's elections.

TAMPA, Fla. - The House Republican Conference is not known for its racial diversity, but after an influx of candidates during the past two cycles, there could be more black Republicans in Congress next year than at any time since the post-Reconstruction era.

Eight black candidates have been nominated in House Republican primaries so far this year, and a ninth could be added tonight in Arizona, where Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker is making a second bid for Congress in the new 9th district.

The GOP had 14 black nominees in 2010, a banner year for the party, when Reps. Tim Scott (S.C.) and Allen West (Fla.) became the first black Republicans in Congress since 2003. They became high-profile members of the freshman class and there's a chance they'll be joined next year by at least one more GOP rising star, Mia Love.

"There's always been a good number in any election cycle [that] at least get into the primary," former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said of black Republican candidates. "The battle's always been making it through the primary."

Love, the mayor of a small town in Utah, burst on to the scene in April at the state party convention, where she surprised many and secured the nomination without the need for a runoff in a large field of candidates. She now has the best chance of the nine candidates of being elected, and her potential to be the first black Republican woman ever in Congress has led to extensive national media attention.

That will continue tonight, when she takes the stage for a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention. The program, packed tighter after Monday's program was canceled, will feature some of the party's other minority elected officials and candidates. They include Scott; New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the first female Hispanic governor; Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval; South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Texas Senate nominee Ted Cruz. Former Alabama Rep. Artur Davis, who switched parties to join the GOP, is also speaking.

"It's important to note that voters are voting in line with their values," Scott said in an interview today. While the number of black Republicans in Congress is increasing, the party still struggles to win majority-minority or minority-influenced districts. Scott said the GOP needs minority voters "to vote by their value systems instead of voting on some cultural or societal norm."

Apart from Parker and Love, who are running in competitive districts, the nominees are facing entrenched incumbents in safe Democratic districts. They include: Joseph McCray and Virginia Fuller in California; Wayne Winsley in Connecticut; Chris Fields in Minnesota; Robert Mansfield in Pennsylvania; Bill Marcy in Mississippi; and Travis Washington in Texas.

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