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Black Republicans Few in Number, But Strong in Convictions


The crowd at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota last week was described as a sea of white faces by some reporters. The number of African Americans in attendance was significantly down from the 2004 Republican convention. And most black voters this year are supporting Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, who is the son of an African father and a white American mother. But VOA's Houston-based correspondent Greg Flakus, who attended last week's convention, says black Republicans are solidly behind their candidate - John McCain.

Around 25 percent of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver last month were African Americans and candidate Barack Obama has enjoyed strong support from blacks across the nation.

By contrast, black participation at the Republican Party, or GOP, convention last week was minimal. Only 36 of the 2,380 delegates were black, down from more than 100 at the 2004 convention.

Although he is not African American, one of the Republican Party's fastest rising stars is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, whose parents came from India. His skin color and his ability to appeal to voters of all races has put him front and center in the Republican effort to attract more minorities. He was scheduled to make a major speech at the convention, but ended up canceling his visit because of Hurricane Gustav, which struck his state last week.

Blacks and other minorities who did attend the GOP event described themselves as fiercely loyal Republicans who stand by their ideals in spite of criticism from members of their own communities who see Obama's candidacy as a historic opportunity.

Many of black Republicans cite moral convictions as a reason for rejecting a person of their race who has already made history by winning a major party's presidential nomination.

Gale Sayers, a black Republican from San Antonio, Texas, has strong views about Barack Obama. "There are many reasons, one of the big ones would be his stance on abortion. He [says] it is 'above his pay grade' to tell us when a baby or a person has human rights. That is really weird," she said.

John Colon of Florida, a leader of the National Black Republican Association, says he has little in common with Barack Obama other than skin color.

"If Barack Obama had a proven track record and shared my values, I would be looking to vote for him as well. But he does not. That is the main point. He does not share my values," he said.

Colon says his religious beliefs require him to reject abortion and favor policies that promote morality and strengthen families. He also rejects the Democratic Party's stand on such matters as education and national defense.

Colon says John McCain has proven his leadership and shown that he can work with Democrats to form consensus.

"Everybody knows that he is a maverick and that he can build consensus across the aisle. I have seen no bills that Barack Obama has built consensus with or reached across the aisle and worked with the other side," he added. "We all know that, in Washington, if you are not willing to compromise and reach across the aisle, you get gridlock."

Another prominent black Republican at the convention was former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, who has become a well-known figure on radio and TV political talk shows.

Steele acknowledges the advantage Democrats have this year with blacks now that they have an African-American presidential candidate, but he says his party can compete for those votes in the years ahead.

"We have to get our act together sufficiently to be competitive and effectively engage the black vote, the Hispanic vote, the white vote, every vote in this country with a values message - an empowerment message, an ownership message that resonates with communities," he said.

How successful Republicans will be in their effort to attract blacks and other minorities to their cause may depend on how the November election plays out. Some prominent black conservatives have announced their support for Barack Obama and, analysts say, it will be difficult to counter what is viewed by many people of all races as an opportunity to heal old racial wounds and unite the nation.

Republican leaders say they remain committed to attracting more minorities to their fold. But many of them admit that this is probably not the year in which they will make much progress.

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