It hasn’t gone unnoticed that a significant number of African Americans identifying themselves as Republican are running for Congress. Tim Scott (R) is a sure thing for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. Observers consider conservative insurgent Allen West (R) competitive enough to possibly take out incumbent Rep. Ron Klein (D) in Florida’s 22nd District. And Colorado is buzzing about Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier (R), a moderate Republican running in the 7th Congressional District against Rep. Earl Perlmutter (D), who is also watching his back in what local politicos consider a hot race. With this new wave of Black Republicans poised for Capitol Hill offices, a curious question is raised: what will that mean for the Congressional Black Caucus?
In typical electoral cycles, the pundits would be dismissing Black Republicans – and for good reason. Less than 10% of the African American electorate is registered “Republican.” In 2008, less than that voted for GOP Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Critics, Black Republicans among them, famously rip the Republican National Committee for its notorious failure at Black outreach. And the Republican brand is synonymous with White racism as far as the majority of African Americans are concerned.
Yet, 2010 found a record number of Black Republicans staging Congressional bids – from those barely registering on the political radar to several managing successful, well-funded grassroots campaigns like the ones mentioned above. As Election Day edges closer, and the chances of a GOP takeover appear imminent with each passing poll, longtime observers of Black political trends are sensing the potential for a sudden spurt in Black Republican Congressional Members. And, it’s an important question should Republicans regain majorities in Congress, presenting a challenge for the CBC if its members need to leverage GOP leadership to gain traction on issues critical to their core constituencies.
Is there a paradigm shift on the horizon?
“It marks a beginning of a potential shift, but it does not necessarily mean a new shift for Black people and politics, particularly a shift back to the Republican Party,” says conservative commentator and author Lenny McAllister in comments to Politic365.com. “Black people must see people that reflect their current conditions, not just how they look physically, in order to walk the road back to the GOP and, perhaps, political balance within Black America.”
“Half the message is showing up,” says Frazier, a 31-year old Aurora, CO city councilman who is generating some excitement among African Americans in the Denver metro area. “I look at it as an issue of engagement. The Republican Party has no choice but to expand the demographics if it is to survive. My job is to engage all communities.”
A key question is whether candidates like Frazier will embrace the 42-member, all-Democratic CBC should they win. “I would absolutely entertain it,” says Frazier. “There needs to be a diversity of ideas on how to move our country forward, particularly as it relates to Blacks and Hispanics.”
Sources close to West are fairly certain he’ll decline or boycott an invitation to the CBC in the event he wins, some raising the specter of a very ugly spat between the very outspoken retired military officer and a Caucus used to showing public solidarity. West is often criticized for his stands on race, at one time claiming that “institutional racism is dead.”
“I don’t think that it’s a good idea to boycott,” says McAllister. “There is no possibility for true advancement, development, or higher efficacy for the CBC in advocating for Black folks in America if there is not the much-needed competition of philosophies within it.”
Still, the procedures for joining the Caucus are not that clear. Are new Members invited or do they express a desire to join? Is membership simply based on mutual background and heritage or is it dictated by party? And, how does the Caucus … caucus if it’s faced with the challenge of a minority-party Member? The Caucus has been down this road before, accommodating Members like one-term U.S. Virgin Islands Del. Melvin Herbert Evans (R) back in 1979. And, there was the very public feud in 1994 between lone Black Republican Gary Franks (R-CT) and CBC Members angered by his conservative views. Then Caucus Chair Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-MD) settled the issue, at least temporarily, by asking: “Can the Congressional Black Caucus accommodate diversity and plurality? It must. And as long as I am chair, it will.”
The prospect of a fresh round of fights with Black Republicans doesn’t sit too well with Black Democratic Members. When Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) arrived in 1995, the last Black Republican to serve in Congress, the former college football quarterback declined the invitation to join the CBC, spurring controversy during his three terms. Many Black Republicans claim he was pushed out.
“I know that in the past, Watts wanted an invitation,” says Rev. Stephen Broden (R) in comments to Politic365.com, a candidate running a long-shot bid against incumbent Rep. Eddie Bernice-Johnson (D) in Houston Dallas, TX. “The Black conservative voice has been ignored and disparaged for a long time, and the conservative media has ignored us, too. There is a disconnect.”