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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.

"What we've seen as a trend line going back to 2009, 2010 has been more and more individuals making it through the primary process and actually winding up being the nominee," Steele, who was the first black statewide elected official in Maryland, said of candidates at the federal and state levels.

If Love defeats Rep. Jim Matheson (D), and Scott and West are re-elected, the next Congress would feature the largest number of black Republicans since the 1890s. Just five were elected in the 20th century, including two in the 1990s who served one overlapping term. Former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who served from 1994 to 2002, was the last black Republican in Congress until West and Scott were elected in 2010.

The trend since the 19th century has been the opposite for Democrats, who now have 41 black House Members who largely hail from majority-minority or minority-influenced districts.

Republicans are working at the state level to recruit more minority candidates who could eventually run for Congress. Despite some successes, the process is still slow-going, said Frank Donatelli, chairman of GOPAC, which recruits and trains candidates at the state legislative level.

"Admittedly, we have less than a stellar record in getting black Republicans elected, but it's obviously something that we need to continue to work on," Donatelli said. "I continue to believe that our message of job creation, economic growth and optimism is eventually a winning message, and could penetrate a much greater segment of the African-American community than Republicans are getting right now."

Winning over black voters is an even greater struggle for the party this cycle. President Barack Obama, who in 2008 became the first black presidential nominee from a major party, won 95 percent of the black vote, which was 13 percent of the national electorate. Black voters have given Democrats at least 82 percent of the vote nationally in every presidential election over the past 40 years.

Steele said the 2010 elections were a step in the right direction for the party, when, along with West and Scott, Haley was elected as the first female governor of South Carolina - and the second Indian-American governor after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. In the same cycle, Jennifer Carroll became the first black person and first woman elected lieutenant governor of Florida.

In late 2011, Herman Cain briefly led in the presidential polls of the Iowa Republican caucuses. And next year, T.W. Shannon will become Oklahoma's first black state House speaker.

But, "enormous challenges" remain for the party, said Steele, who made recruiting minority candidates and convention delegates a top priority when he took the reins of the RNC in 2009.

"We need to start winning in communities where the black or Hispanic minority population is a larger percentage of the voting population," Steele said. "It's not just, let's elect Allen West and we feel like we've done something. Allen West is the tip of the spear."

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