The GOP’s diversity challenge: African-American voters

whenry@tri-statedefender.com | 9/10/2008, 7 p.m.


Paul Boyd, who is stumping for the GOP ticket of McCain and vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, said African Americans share the same values as Republicans. (Photo by Wiley Henry)

The 2008 Republican National Convention had the undivided attention of an African-American man on a mission: electing Arizona Sen. John McCain as the nation’s 44th president.

Paul Boyd is stumping for the GOP ticket of McCain and vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. He felt that the media intentionally made the crowd seem less diverse at the Republican convention. “I can assure you there were more black faces in the crowd than what the media showed on television,” Boyd said.

However, statistics released by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a renowned Washington-based research and public policy institution that focuses on issues of concern to African Americans and communities of color, have sounded an alarm for Republican Party leaders.

After seating a record number of African-American delegates in 2004, the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul had the lowest black representation in 40 years, the Center reported. The 36 African-American delegates in 2008 represented only 1.5 percent of the party’s total delegate count. That’s a 78.4 percent decline from 2004, when 164 black delegates participated at the Republican Convention.

Keeping Count of African-American Voters

The Joint Center has prepared similar reports for both the Republican and Democratic conventions every four years since 1972. (It found that nearly 25 percent of delegates attending the Democratic Party’s 2008 convention were African American.)

Written by the organization’s senior political analyst, David A. Bositis, the guides are intended to help African-American convention participants carry out their responsibilities and highlight trends among black voters.

“This guide scientifically documents the historical shift of black voter allegiances over the past 50 years, and places black voter attitudes and preferences in the context of the pressing issues of our day,” said Ralph B. Everett, president and CEO of the Joint Center. “We hope that delegates to the Republican National Convention will find this information useful in understanding the concerns of black voters and how they will influence the upcoming election.”

John Ryder, a state executive committee member of the Republican Party, was one of 55 members from the Tennessee delegation in attendance. An attorney with Harris, Shelton, Hanover and Walsh PLLC, he said there were four or five African Americans in the Tennessee delegation, all from other counties. Also, there was an alternate from Memphis.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s historic run for the White House is a contributing factor, Ryder said. “In the unique case of Barack Obama being the Democratic nominee. I don’t think we can overcome the emotional attachment of his candidacy,” Ryder said.

President Bush garnered roughly 11 percent of the African-American vote during the last two presidential elections. And that percentage, Ryder said, “will decrease in this election because of Barack Obama’s campaign.”

Boyd added that only about 10 percent of African Americans consider themselves Republicans. The party’s conservative values resonate with many African Americans who share these convictions, he said.

“There are many blacks behind John McCain,” Boyd said. “In 2000, they were behind McCain (when he first ran for president). Now that he’s the Republican nominee, they’re (happily) out of their minds.”

Reaching Across Cultures

Boyd said the GOP must increase outreach within the African American community, a point Sen. McCain has also made to national media.

The answer to increased minority participation, argued Boyd and Ryder, depends on an aggressive “get-out-the-vote” campaign. However, “it will be a long time for our numbers to be equal to that of the Democrats,” Boyd said.

“The goal is to make sure people have a choice. We need to come together to fix education, jobs, wages and health care,” he added. “Right now, there are plenty of women and African Americans working to help John McCain.”