Is the Republican party’s effort to win black voters just skin-deep?
This article was first published in The Guardian October 18, 2013
When it’s convenient to their diversity “story-telling”, the Republican National Committee loves black Republicans. After Mitt Romney got whacked in the 2012 presidential election because he ignored minority voters, the RNC pledge it would engage with minority voters and support more candidates of color.
To keep up appearances, the RNC hired a handful of blacks this year and featured the black Republican house speaker from Oklahoma, TW Shannon, as a speaker in its Rising Stars Program at the RNC’s summer meeting in Boston. But when it’s time to support actual black candidates in primaries against white candidates, the RNC treats black Republicans like the plague.
Ask black Republican Erika Harold; she can tell you all about it. The former Miss America 2003 and Harvard Law School graduate, Harold had the audacity to challenge white, male, first-term Representative Rodney Davis in a GOP primary for Illinois‘ 13th congressional seat – and is witnessing the party machine’s discrimination up-close and personal.
The Illinois Republican party refused to give Harold access to the GOP data center. Formerly called the “voter vault”, the data center is where the RNC stores voting information for all voters in the country, which it makes available to the 50 state parties for free. Candidates are given access to the database to target donors and voters.
In response to Harold’s request, the state central committee, which governs the Illinois GOP, issued a new policy at its 5 October meeting. The new policy stated that challengers to any Republican incumbent would not be given access to the voter database. However, the policy did permit county chairs to give access to county voter data at their own discretion. How convenient for the white incumbent, Davis.
I thought primaries were about letting the best man or woman win? When I asked Harold what her reaction was to the new policy, she remarked:
“I think this new policy does a disservice to all candidates and all voters because we each have a stake in ensuring that all elections are run in a fundamentally fair way. I hope that the committee would reconsider its policy because this is about fairness and equal access.
The primary is scheduled for March 2014; not having access to the data center is a setback for Harold. In response to Republican News Watch blogger Doug Ibendahl’s inquiry to the RNC about the matter, its newly-hired black deputy press secretary, Raffi Williams, responded that “state parties determine access to data center.”
The RNC, in fact, owns the data center. By choosing not to force the Illinois GOP to give Harold access, the RNC is washing its hands of the matter – effectively saying “we’re not going to help you black candidates.” The only time the RNC has stood up for Harold was when Jim Allen, chairman of the Montgomery County, Illinois, Republican party went as far as to call Harold a “street walker”. Of course, it would have been difficult for RNC Chairman Reince Priebus not to defend Harold when, just a few months earlier, the RNC had unveiled its “Growth and Opportunity Project”, designed to attract more non-white, women and young voters to the party.
The report noted:
“Public perception of the party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.”
Behind the scenes, though, the establishment seems bent on obstructing Harold’s campaign. Whatever the PR says, it’s clear the party has no intention of changing its “white only” ways.
It’s been nearly a year since the GOP lost the 2012 presidential election and despite the RNC’s pledge to be more inclusive, nothing has changed. Besides a few brown and black hires, how has the RNC leaned into new communities of voters?
A Republican asked me recently, why Harold is challenging Davis? “Why not,” I replied. She has the credentials: Harold was the youth director for Republican Pat O’Malley’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign; a 2004 delegate to the Republican National Convention; and has ideas for governing. White voters are a shrinking portion of the county’s demographic. By the year 2050, about 53% of Americans will be non-white.
Mitt Romney won 60% of the white vote in 2012, the highest of any presidential candidate since 1988, yet he lost the election because of minority votes. The RNC and its state chapters had better realize that candidates like Erika Harold are the future of the GOP – or risk becoming an unelectable and moribund party of an unrepresentative demographic.