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 and the former Congressman J.C. Watts, and the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams have hinted they're considering backing Barack Obama. They may not like all his policies, but they're attracted to the historic nature of his candidacy.
Some Republicans are concerned these sentiments will make it harder to recruit and retain black voters. Armstrong Williams joins us now. He's the host of the nationally syndicated program "The Armstrong Williams Show."
Welcome to the program, Mr. Williams.
Mr. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS (Host, "The Armstrong Williams Show"): Thank you for having me.
NORRIS: Now, you were quoted fairly recently saying, I don't necessarily like Barack Obama's policies, but for the first time in my life, history thrust me to really seriously think about it - it being voting for Barack Obama. You said, I can honestly say I have no idea who I'm going to pull the lever for in November.
Listening to that, it sounds like John McCain may have to work very hard to court even those black Republicans who have long been considered stalwarts within the party.
Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, you know, this is a different kind of an election year; it's an historical one. I certainly cannot vote for a candidate because of their race because it would contradict everything I've ever written and stood for, and render a hypocrite. But you cannot ignore the fact that he's definitely qualified. He's very eloquent, he inspires. And so many conservatives, who just happen to be black, see it as a dilemma because they are wondering what they are going to tell their children and grandchildren 20 years from now when they had the chance in American history - which is rare and has never happened before - to pull the lever.
And it creates quite a dilemma because it's not that there's something wrong with Senator John McCain, I mean, he's very impressive. A prisoner of war, he's a maverick in and of himself; he dances to his own beat. And even at the NAACP convention where he spoke, he was quite eloquent, he opened it up for Q and As, he was very bold, he praised Senator Barack Obama. He knew where he was, what his chances were, and what he was up against.
But yet, he was a gentleman, he was courageous, and people respect that. But yet, the tide of history doesn't necessarily favor him in this race.
NORRIS: If John McCain tries to counter this gravitational pull that you're describing in this election, how does he hold to voters, black voters in particular, who are drawn to Barack Obama's candidacy?
Mr. WILLIAMS: The interesting point is it's an uphill battle. If you look at the recent polls, 83 percent of American blacks favor Senator Barack Obama, 17 percent are still undecided. If Senator John McCain were able to capitalize and 13 or 15 percent of that vote, he can win.
NORRIS: John McCain is working for that vote. He's gone to Selma, he's gone to the NAACP, he spent a lot of time in New Orleans of late. But when you look at the two parties, as voters look at these two parties, they will see quite a contrast. The Democrats are on a position to blast through a glass ceiling and potentially make racial history.
But beyond that, there's a crop of black mayors, members of Congress, the black governor of Massachusetts. On the other side, when you look at the GOP, you see six years with no black governors, no black senators, House members, only a handful of black candidates who are now running for national office. Quite a contrast as John McCain tries to reach out to black voters.
Mr. WILLIAMS: You know, it's got to be tough. But still, I still believe this, I don't think that it's a foregone conclusion that Senator Barack Obama has the White House wrapped up. There's so much that we don't know about him.
NORRIS: Now, I just want to go back to the comments that you made, that you're not sure which lever you're going to pull in November. There are members of your party who had that heartburn when they heard that you said this. They would say, this is the kind of political suicide.
Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I had a heartburn, but it's just going to have to burn. You know, come November, I have no idea what I'm going to do. But I will tell you, some people are going to have grave difficulty, as much as they want to, pulling that lever for Senator John McCain. It's going to be very difficult for them to pull the lever against Senator Barack Obama in this historical election. It's going to be difficult.
NORRIS: I know you're talking about other people in the abstract. But listening to you, it sounds like you've made up your mind.
Mr. WILLIAMS: No. No. No, no, no. What bothers me is that I wish I could vote for him. I wish could say he's my candidate. It's what I really want to do, in all honesty. But because of the positions that he's taken and because of what he advocates, especially his willingness to sit down with rogue nations, especially his willingness to tax capital gains, those things could have devastating impacts. So my agony is that I want to, but I just need a little more to work with.
NORRIS: Armstrong Williams, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Mr. WILLIAMS: Thank you.
NORRIS: All the best to you. That's conservative commentator Armstrong Williams. He's the host of the nationally syndicated program, "The Armstrong Williams Show."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.