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.
The first question that the average person asks about a black Republican is whether he can appeal to black voters. In Steele’s case the answer is “absolutely!” Just this week, six key black Democratic leaders in Prince George’s County crossed party lines to endorse Steele. The most notable person in this coalition is Wayne K. Curry, former Prince George's County Executive. In addition to Curry, five other county council members used this endorsement as a protest against the dearth of qualified, state-wide Democratic candidates. Since Prince George’s County is the richest predominately black county in the nation, we may be observing a new phenomenon.
The second group that Steele has had to reach out to is the evangelical Christian church. He has developed an amazing coalition of supporters from divergent denominational beliefs because of his pro-life, pro-family, and anti-embryonic stem cell stances.
Steele articulated his beliefs in a powerfully winsome manner Sunday October 28, during a debate with Ben Cardin (his opponent) on Tim Russert’s "Meet the Press." In addition to speaking about the so-called wedge issues with courage and conviction, Steele set forth a credible plan for improving our efforts in Iraq. Without distancing himself from the President, he spoke about the war in a way that made sense to both blacks and people of faith. He especially emphasized the need for the Iraqi people to stand up for their nation without turning it into a terrorist breeding ground.
Steele’s final hurdle is whether he will be supported by suburban and rural white conservatives. Blacks think that the Republican Party is famous for abandoning people of color at critical moments. The most recent poster child for this phenomenon is Keith Butler of Michigan. Despite a massive war chest of 50% more money than his opponent in this year’s senatorial primaries, he could not bridge the race gap within his own party. Teamed with Butler’s loss, if Steele were to lose this year it will be harder for the Republican Party to recruit both African American candidates and members in the future.
In conclusion, I am calling on people of goodwill to come together to change America by coming out and voting for candidates with conservative values. In Michael Steele’s case, his next stop is the senate, but the last stop maybe the White House.
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.