Black GOP Candidates Gather, Seek Support

Posted March 19, 2010 at 9:48am

The praise for conservative icon Ann Coulter and scorn for “Barack Hussein Obama’s” socialist agenda was plentiful at a Republican candidate forum in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, and it certainly sounded like any standard GOP event. But it sure as heck didn’t look like one.

That’s because the second annual Frederick Douglass Foundation Leadership Summit, which kicked off on Thursday and runs through Saturday, is a gathering for black Republican Congressional candidates. The schedule includes a reception at the GOP’s Capitol Hill Club and an audience with Michael Steele, who last year became the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee.

At times Thursday’s event took on the feeling of a Sunday service at a traditional black church. Biblical references were plentiful, and at one point shouts of “preach it” were called out from the front row as one candidate discussed the “nonsense that covers 2,700 pages” of the Democratic health care bill.

But turnout for the gathering was a far cry from revival size. The forum drew about 25 attendees besides the candidates themselves.

Tim Johnson, the foundation’s chairman, praised the candidates for adding their voices to what has traditionally been a very one-sided political debate within the African-American community.

“For far too long America has believed that black America speaks with one voice,” Johnson said. “We are proud black Americans and we are Republicans. … For those who say you need more people, Jesus Christ had 12 disciples.”

The Frederick Douglass Foundation puts the number of African-American Congressional candidates this cycle at 30-31 if you count evangelical minister Barb Davis White, who ran as a Republican last cycle but said Thursday that she has decided to run as an Independent this time around. Three of those candidates are running for Senate. It’s a number that rivals Reconstruction-era black Republican activism, the Frederick Douglas Foundation proudly announced in promoting Thursday’s event.

Republicans haven’t had a black Member in their Conference since 2002, when former Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.) retired. If one of this cycle’s black candidates is able to pull off a victory, Congressional Republicans would welcome only their fifth black colleague since Reconstruction.

Oddly enough, the one candidate with the best chance of winning this fall who showed up at Thursday’s forum is likely the one that the national party is least excited to see.

Last fall, the NRCC had been openly excited about the candidacy of Les Phillip, a Navy veteran running in northern Alabama’s 5th district. But that was before Rep. Parker Griffith (Ala.) switched parties and became a Republican in December. Since then, the party has embraced Griffith as one of their own and have closed their door to Phillip. Phillip said Thursday that NRCC officials have made it clear they won’t be seen with him during this week’s summit.

There seems to be no love lost from Phillip. At Thursday’s forum he called the NRCC “spineless and weak” for their actions and for allowing Griffith into the GOP Conference.

“They made a deal with a devil to get a vote from a liberal Democrat,” he said.

Phillip is now locked in a three-way primary in which the winner will be favored in November.

Most of the rest of the black Republicans who attended Thursday’s event are considered very long shots.

Davis White lost by 49 points last cycle in her challenge to Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and in the process was outspent by over $1.4 million. And despite Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) recent ethical troubles, it would probably be an overstatement to call Pastor Michel Faulkner (R) an underdog in his effort to beat the former Ways and Means chairman in his overwhelmingly Democratic Harlem district.

Despite the fact that President Barack Obama carried the district with 96 percent of the vote in 2008, Faulkner said that Democratic voters can be convinced to support a Republican as long as he shows them how Rangel has kidnapped their vote over the years and kept them in a state of political Stockholm syndrome.

While it might seem like an educational effort on that scale would require millions, not to mention institutional support from state and national party leaders, Faulkner said he didn’t come to Washington to ask the NRCC or Steele for a contribution or support. Faulkner appears to be putting his faith in a higher power.

“I don’t expect them to do that,” Faulkner said. “I expect God to do that.”

But not everyone was so quick to shrug off what the national party could do for them.

Businessman and Charles County GOP Chairman Charles Lollar faces the daunting task of trying to knock off Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D) in Maryland’s 5th district this fall.

He said he needs $2.5 million to give the Majority Leader a real fight, and to help get there he’s hoping to be accepted into the NRCC’s “Young Guns” fundraising and infrastructure program.

Lollar expects to show $100,000 raised by the end of the month and expects that that amount will catch the eye of the committee and outside groups like the powerful Club for Growth.

If Lollar can somehow pull off the upset it would be a major step toward reasserting what Johnson described as the legacy of black Americans in the GOP.

“Our party was founded as an anti-slavery party. It was the only party founded for us,” Johnson said. “We aren’t saying whites have to leave, but you have to scoot over.”