GOP Hopes to Make Gains with Black Candidates

Tara Wall, director of outreach for the Republican National Committee and senior adviser to RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, says the 2006 midterm elections could bolster the number of black Republican politicians. She points to three key races, where Republicans have thrown their support behind African-American contenders.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

The government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina could hurt Republicans with black voters. But Tara Wall, director of outreach for the Republican National Committee and senior adviser to RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, says this election could bolster the numbers of national black Republican politicians. She points to three key races where Republicans have thrown their support behind African-American contenders.

Ms. TARA WALL (Director of Outreach, Republican National Committee): Maryland is a great example, I think. You know, there have been numerous articles written, one in Black America Web, for example, one by Dr. Julianne Malveaux about how Republicans really have taken a charge in recruiting candidates for office. Where as, in a sense, Democrats have kind of left some of their candidates high and dry. Maryland is a prime example, where Kweisi Mfume was running neck and neck with Cardin. In fact, he lost by very a slim margin.

I think that if he had the party apparatus behind him the way we put the party apparatus behind our candidates, Mfume would be the nominee on their ballot on the Democratic side. So I would also challenge them to not take black votes for granted.

We know that we've got a lot to make up for, and we've said that all along. This is going to happen in increments. It's not going to happen overnight. But we've got three great strong candidates out there in Ohio, in Maryland and Pennsylvania who have real messages of reform. They're individuals running on their - on independent policies I think that benefit of course their communities and they are certainly in position to win this November.

CHIDEYA: Let's move to some candidates who are not of African-American heritage. You've had some real gaffs by Republicans running for office or re-election. Senator Conrad Burns called his house painter a nice little Guatemalan man. Senator George Allen referred to a man of Indian descent as macaca and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney used the phrase tar baby.

What is the party doing to make sure that its candidates and its officials are in touch with the multicultural reality of America.

Ms. WALL: Well, I don't think this has a party label to it. I think that certainly folks in both parties have made gaffs. I mean you just had Howard Dean, for example, in 2003 say white folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flags in the back ought to be voting with them.

So when these misstatements are made certainly they are not reflective of the party that we are today. And I would challenge and encourage folks on both sides to be sensitive towards folks of all backgrounds, faiths and beliefs and it is not just simply indicative of a party per se.

I think when people make remarks that are inappropriate then certainly they should apologize for those remarks.

CHIDEYA: You mentioned Chairman Dean's remarks about people in the South. He has vowed to take back the South, which was lost with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson's support of the civil rights movement. Are you worried than an influx of black voters - I mean because African-Americans are returning to the South, leaving the west and some other places - could help the Democrats reclaim the south?

Ms. WALL: You know, actually I think African-Americans in the South - I've spent some time in the south and I think African-Americans - I have family there of course - it seems to me many African-Americans, the majority, particularly in the south, tend to be more conservative and continue to be more aligned in values, in my opinion, with the Republican Party.

So while, you know, that's admirable on the part of Dean, I do think that, again, most African-Americans certainly are much more conservative in beliefs. And when you have a party who have consistently done things that are out of synch with African-Americans, such as opposing school choice for parents and students, opposing tax cuts and job growth, being a party that defies the sanctity of life and marriage. These are things that run against the grain of what African-Americans, particularly in the south as well, believe in. And if that's the message they're going to carry there, then they're not going to be successful.

CHIDEYA: At the same time this has been a tough year for Republicans and the black community with the anniversary with Katrina, not much work really being completed there in the Gulf Coast. The poverty numbers are still high. The voter ID bill that just passed in the House is seen by some as going against voting rights and civil rights.

So what is the RNC's plan to win back black voters who are feeling targeted?

Ms. WALL: Sure. Well, I mean the work is still there for us to do. This is not going to stop the work that we have to do to reach out and continue. Because, again, as the chairman has said, we will not - this party cannot call itself a true majority until more African-Americans come home to the Republican Party.

I, like most Americans, particularly African-Americans, were certainly hurt and frustrated seeing those faces across the screen last year. It was just absolutely devastating. But, you know, this president had committed - he admitted responsibility for the government's role in slow response time in this and from that day forward said we're going to move ahead and make sure that we do everything we can to rebuild that region.

And he has done so. $110 billion in that region, 70 percent of which has already been dispersed. The other 30 percent is up to the local government to do their part to come up with a plan and disperse the rest of it. The federal government has a role to play and has played that role. They are limited. They can't just come in and overstep the bounds of the state.

It's now up to the state and the local government to take those funds, to develop a plan and to continue with the great progress we know will come as a result of the work and the commitment of the folks there in the Gulf region.

CHIDEYA: Tara Wall, thank you so much.

Ms. WALL: Sure. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Tara Wall is senior adviser and director of outreach for the Republican National Committee.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Coming up, California says automakers should foot the bill for air pollution caused by cars, and the departure from diplomacy at the U.N. Two outspoken world leaders have harsh words for President Bush. We'll discuss these and other topics at our Roundtable next.

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