MICHELE NORRIS, host:
As John McCain reaches out to African-American voters, there are signs that he may not be able to count on support from some long-time black Republicans. Well-known black Republicans such as Colin Powell, former Congressman J.C. Watts, and Armstrong Williams have hinted that they're considering backing Obama. They may not like all his policies, but they're attracted to the historic nature of his candidacy.
Some Republicans are concerned that these sentiments will make it harder to recruit and retain black voters. Ken Blackwell is a former Ohio secretary of state, he ran for governor in Ohio in 2006, and he was at the NAACP convention today for John McCain's speech. He joins us now. Welcome to the program.
Mr. KEN BLACKWELL (Former Ohio Secretary of State): Good to be with you, Michele.
NORRIS: Mr. Blackwell, does John McCain have to work a bit harder to court even those black Republicans who've long been considered stalwarts within the party?
Mr. BLACKWELL: I think John McCain has to advance an authentic agenda that serves the interests of all Americans including African-Americans. But I think the watchword is that he has to be earnest, and the agenda has to be authentic. He focused in on education today. He had an opportunity to use another issue, to showcase another issue that transcends racial politics. Because I think that's the challenge of John McCain and, ironically on a - from a different point of view, it's the challenge of Barack Obama, which one of these candidates can really be the pulse-ratio(ph) of a candidate of the United States political community.
He could've focused in on energy. Energy is impacting all Americans, but it's impacting disproportionately those Americans of moderate to low income. And many African-Americans are finding themselves not only suffering at the gas pump, but because of the accelerating costs of living around - across a broad range of aspects of urban life, many African-Americans want to know what we're going to do to get gas prices down. They want to know can we have a comprehensive energy policy that would create jobs that they would have access to.
And so, I think John McCain came in with a basic objective. One, to be authentic. Two, to show that he cared to show up because what he understands is something that Jack Kemp and others have talked about before and that is that people really don't care about how much you know until they know about how much you care.
Mr. BLACKWELL: And I think he actually scored points there. And he was, I think, (unintelligible) for the fact that he was speaking to two audiences. He was speaking to the audience in the seats in the convention center, but he was also speaking to broader audience that included many African-Americans, Latinos, and whites.
NORRIS: Now, Mr. Blackwell, I just have to ask you, when you look at the two parties, you see quite a contrast. The Democrats are in a position to blast through a glass ceiling and make racial history. Beyond that, there's a crop of black mayors, members of Congress, the black governor of Massachusetts. On the other side, you see on the - within the GOP, six years with no black governors, no black senators or House members, and a very strong (unintelligible) running for office. Quite a contrast.
Mr. BLACKWELL: But think about what you're saying, the fact is is that when it came down to many breakthroughs - whether it was the first African-American member of Congress, whether it was the first secretary of state - that have been Republicans, African-American Republicans that have been on the breakthrough. You and I both know that there's an advent flow in politics.
In 1960, the African-American community or the African-American vote was about even. It was in that election when John Kennedy was forced by his brothers to make a call to Coretta Scott King when Dr. King was in jail in Alabama, and Nixon refused to make the call that you saw it move from a 50-50 break to a point where Kennedy won the African-American vote, 60-40.
NORRIS: Mr. Blackwell, I'm - I'm going to have to leave it…
Mr. BLACKWELL: So we know that there had been times when the African-American vote has been more Republican than Democrat and - and what the African community…