Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

The Maryland race for the U.S. Senate will once and for all answer the question: Can a black man really be a successful Republican? If elected, Michael Steele will continue to be one of the highest ranking, elected African Americans in government today. His next stop after the Senate may be vice-president. Although this may sound like lofty rhetoric, Steele’s credentials, credibility, and charisma speak of greatness. His personal candidacy is important but it may have consequences far beyond the borders of Maryland.

With mid-term elections only days away, many races will be decided by a small number of votes. Therefore, both parties have attempted to figure out who they can count on and drive to the polls. Surprisingly, political pundits cannot absolutely predict which way disgruntled black voters will swing.

I am not suggesting that the majority of blacks will vote for Republican candidates. Quite the contrary, most blacks will vote for Democrats. A recent AP-AOL poll reveals that 83% of likely black voters disapprove of the way the Republican-led Congress is doing its job, (compared with 75% of all likely voters). Additionally, 38% of blacks surveyed believe that they will not be treated fairly in any future national catastrophe like Katrina.

A handful of free thinking blacks, however, in key states may determine whether Republicans retain control of the Senate. This is not only true of Maryland but also of Virginia and Tennessee. In each of these states, there are black candidates and/or racial issues which have dominated the news in recent weeks.

Michael Steele is on the verge of pulling off a historic victory in Maryland, but it’s not a slam dunk. He needs his white, Republican supporters to show up in unprecedented numbers. Three distinct groups have to agree that Steele is the best choice for Maryland: the Republican base; the black Democratic protest vote; and religiously-oriented, values voters.

Steele is a human signpost who suggests that times are changing. The African-American community is redefining herself. The old monikers of “liberal” and “conservative” no longer fully describe our community’s values or preferred public policy. He has somehow mastered the ability to be fully black, politically conservative, and compassionately committed to solving problems.

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.