09/21/2006 10:23 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

GOP Backslides in Bid For Black Votes

There was a tremendous amount of excitement and anticipation in Republican circles that 2006 would be the year in which the party makes serious inroads in Black communities around the country. Republican strategists have argued for years that such a breakthrough would place a near permanent GOP lock on the American electorate and drive the Democrats the way of the Whigs. Leading the charge into Black communities was the prospect of electing African American Republicans to substantial statewide offices around the country and building on the historic nominations of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice to unprecedented positions. Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, Lynn Swann of Pennsylvania, and Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele embody Republican hopes for a more diverse, and dominant, party.

However, less than two months from general elections around the country, it is now clear that the Republican Party may be further away from its goal than it ever expected. The Iraq War, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, wasteful spending, and Republicans embroiled in corruption investigations around the country have devastated the party in the eyes of many African Americans.

J. Kenneth Blackwell is on his way to defeat in his gubernatorial campaign. Granted, he's burdened by an overwhelming Republican corruption scandal in the state that has the party polling at all-time lows. He's also campaigning with the stench of the 2004 campaign surrounding him. He oversaw the administration of a presidential election that is as questionable in its legitimacy as Florida was four years earlier. Ohio Republican Representative Bob Ney's recent guilty plea to improperly taking gifts from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff served as yet another reminder of Republican corruption. All that, coupled with his very conservative positions, leaves Blackwell nearly 19 points behind his Democratic opponent, according to a recent Rasmussen poll.

African American Republican candidates are struggling as they run along with President Bush. The promise of early 2006 has been replaced by the grim reality that most of these candidates, who were going to lead the GOP into Black communities around the country, are falling flat with the voters. Lynn Swann's much publicized bid for the Pennsylvania governorship has collapsed under the weight of unreasonable expectations for a candidate without a portfolio beyond personal celebrity. Recent polls show he now trails incumbent Ed Rendell by 10 percentage points and it is only a matter of time before his financial support from around the state and nation dries up.

Blow-out losses in November for Swann and Blackwell could adversely impact Republican plans for Black voters going forward. It's a bad sign for the party and African Americans if the "best" Black Republicans can't win important elections. African American voters are hard pressed to see a reason to support a party that can't seem to get itself together.

Conversely, Michael Steele is surprisingly strong in his campaign to win the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Paul Sarbanes. A Steele win, or a close finish, could give Republicans hope that all is not lost with Black America. While GOP success in the Black community is about more than electing Black Republicans to office, it is an important step. The November elections are shaping up in a way that shows this important step may still be out of reach.