Alabama's Darius Foster Wants To Bring Back 'Fight For The People' GOP In Alabama, the GOP is fielding a record number of black candidates this year, including Foster. It's part of a a Republican effort to make inroads with African-Americans in the Deep South.
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Alabama's Darius Foster Wants To Bring Back 'Fight For The People' GOP

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Alabama's Darius Foster Wants To Bring Back 'Fight For The People' GOP

Alabama's Darius Foster Wants To Bring Back 'Fight For The People' GOP

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

As the election nears, Republicans are trying to make inroads with African-Americans in the Deep South. In Alabama, the GOP is fielding more black candidates this cycle than ever before. One of them is Darius Foster. He gained national attention with this video in which he tried to challenge expectations about what a Republican might be.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

DARIUS FOSTER: Did you know while growing up, we went half the winter without heat or that I think best while listening to Frank Sinatra. The last concert I attended was Lil Wayne. Yes, Lil Wayne.

SIEGEL: NPR's Debbie Elliott has this profile of the candidate.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Darius Foster needs no reminder that he stands out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

D. FOSTER: With me, unfortunately, everything is black Republican. It's not Darius did this. The black Republican did that. So you know...

ELLIOTT: With the bulky frame of a former linebacker and a warm, hearty laugh, Foster fashions himself as a Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt Republican.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

D. FOSTER: The fight-for-the-people Republican, that's what they were. And I'm not sure where the Democratic Party was able to hijack that narrative from them, but they did. And they have it, and I'm trying to bring it back.

ELLIOTT: Foster is a 33-year-old business consultant. He's been active in the GOP since he founded a lonely chapter of College Republicans at the historically black Miles College in Birmingham. He's been tapped by the Republican National Committee as a future leader. Foster was raised by his grandmother who forced him to vote a straight Democratic ticket the first time she took him to the polls. He says he went home and looked up political parties in the family's Britannica Encyclopedia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

D. FOSTER: And I read through, and I went through all of them. I got to the Republican Party, and I just read through the principles. And my grandmother hates taxes. She doesn't do gay marriage. She's always talking about defending yourself and, you know, strong defense. I said, Ma, you may be a Republican. And she looked at me and walked off.

ELLIOTT: She's still a Democrat but has endorsed her grandson in this race for a state House seat representing part of suburban Birmingham. It includes the predominantly black city of Bessemer where Foster spends a lot of time going door-to-door introducing himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

D. FOSTER: How are you doing ma'am? Hey, I'm Darius Foster. I wanted to come by and put name to face to ask for your vote.

ELLIOTT: Democrats have long represented this Alabama House district, which is about two-thirds African-American, giving his opponent, Louise Alexander, the advantage. Foster knows he's up against some strong notions here about the Republican Party.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

D. FOSTER: I think when they hear Republican they think of white men and people who don't care about them nor who don't understand.

ELLIOTT: What he calls TV Republicans - conservative pundits are a thorn in his side, Foster says. And some of his fellow Alabamians haven't helped, like the Republican state senator who referred to blacks as aborigines or the congressman who declared there was a war on whites. Foster says he doesn't have to defend Republican principles, only Republicans, especially those who are hostile to President Obama who got 95 percent of the black vote in Alabama two years ago.

D. FOSTER: And that's not saying that I agree with President Obama. I'm just saying that I can show somebody and talk to them about what it means to be a Republican and not mention President Obama's name at all. This is what being a Republican is. This is what being conservative is.

ELLIOTT: Good morning.

SETARA FOSTER: How are you doing this morning?

ELLIOTT: Great.

S. FOSTER: Care for coffee?

ELLIOTT: Over breakfast at their neighborhood IHOP, his wife, 28-year-old Setara Foster, a lawyer, talks about growing up black in Houston where her parents were union members and loyal Democrats. She now identifies more closely with the GOP. But, she says, she tends to split her ticket.

S. FOSTER: I think that when we as a group identify with one party or one thing all the time, that party never has to earn our vote - ever. And so I think that by having a diversity of political ideology within ethnic, racial, gender, age groups, we force politicians to work.

ELLIOTT: On the campaign trail you won't hear Darius Foster talk about Republicans or Democrats. Instead, he talks about how he's invested some of his campaign funds in community initiatives - technology for schools, shoes for a basketball team, hosting a local job fair. The strategy has won some converts.

JUANITA GRAHAM: When this gentleman came along, I was diehard Democrat.

ELLIOTT: Juanita Graham owns a firm that offers inner-city students enhanced engineering and math courses. She first met Darius Foster while she was working for his Democratic opponent.

GRAHAM: There were some preconceived notions. I will not lie 'cause when you say Republican African-American, first thing pops in most African-American mind is Uncle Tom, butt-kisser, you know. I'm honest. That is the mindset.

ELLIOTT: When he helped her with start-up funds and talked about tackling Bessemer's low high school graduation rate, he earned her vote. But Graham says she's still a Democrat. And that's the real challenge for Darius Foster and Republican leaders who hope to position the party for the future. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Birmingham.

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