Back in the days of the Willie Horton ad and Jesse Helms' re-election campaigns, a healthy garnish of racial fear would almost guarantee an election victory for the offending party. Flash some dark flesh in an ad, allude to white girls put in jeopardy by the colored menace and you could pretty much start measuring curtains for the executive mansion.
However, the demographics have clearly shifted around, though the Republican Party seems nearly blind — and tone deaf — to the fact.
Conservatives got too complacent playing bait-your-way-to-victory and failed to notice that in 2008 it's minority voters who may very well decide the outcome of this presidential election. The same minorities that conservatives have been handing a slap to the back of the head at nearly every opportunity. From not-so-subtle euphemisms to open slurring, how much is conservative race-baiting going to cost the Republicans?
Probably the presidency.
President Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. In contrast Barack Obama currently has a more than 2-to-1 edge with Hispanic voters over John McCain. That may have something to do with conservative "satirist" Rush Limbaugh encouraging Hispanic voters to either "shut your mouth, or get out." The Latino vote could shift the election in Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and North Carolina. All states that in recent years the Republicans could nearly bank on. North Carolina especially is turning into a dicey proposition for Republicans.
In addition to Hispanic voters, there's expected to be an increased turnout among black voters who should top the 85 percent support they gave to John Kerry in 2006. That combo has given Team McCain enough worry that they've had to feverishly dispatch running mate Sarah Palin to North Carolina in an effort to shore up the state.
While the historic candidacy of Barack Obama has an obvious emotional pull for people of color, Republicans had been making inroads among black voters. In 2004, President Bush took 11 percent of the black vote nationally, an increase from about 7 percent in 2000. But in the swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, Bush was able to claim as much as 16 percent of the black vote to help solidify his victories. John McCain is not expected to poll above the single digits with black voters in either state.
The Republicans are losing Asian voters as well. Forty-one percent of Asian-Americans support Obama and 24 percent McCain (though with a large 34 percent undecided, Asians could tip for McCain). And file this under Kinda Ironic: broken down by country of origin, the only group of Asians in which McCain out polls Obama are Vietnamese, 51 percent to 24.
From the beginning of the primary season, Republicans — in contrast to the Democrats — looked less like a representation of modern America than a reenactment of Founding Father's demographics. By the time their national convention rolled around, the Republicans had managed to put together the whitest political jamboree in recent history. Just 13 percent of their delegates were minorities.
To be fair, Republicans have in the past tried to reach out to minority voters. Most recently there was an RNC minority outreach program spearheaded by Ken Mehlman, then-chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida. The effort should be acknowledged. And President Bush has obviously done a commendable job of appointing minorities to high profile positions.
But conservatives have to understand that outreach cannot be an empty buzzword highlighted by making a speech at the Edmund Pettis Bridge 43 years after the fact. Outreach means taking a stand when your members use slurs like "uppity" and your operatives call Hispanics "stupid and unskilled." True outreach means not skipping events such as the All American Presidential Forum organized by Tavis Smiley at Morgan State University and the Univision debate. And if you want to attract some voters of color you certainly can't allow Sarah Palin to get away with making the racially charged comment that Obama "is not a man who sees America like you and I see America."
Based on Republican demographics, certainly Palin is far more correct than she knows.