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Ken-bot still chasing black votes

“Our outreach to the African-American community is based on shared priorities like closing the health gap and the wealth gap and the education gap. It’s not based on politics, it’s based on policies, and those policy needs remain.”
— RNC head Ken Mehlman, dismissing speculation that post-Katrina bungling by the administration will have an impact on recruiting blacks to vote GOP

That’s some strong Kool-Aid, let me tell you. Add to that the smoking of something quite strong if the Repugs think the Bush catastrophe after Katrina won’t hurt the efforts to squeeze out some black votes.

They spent most of 2004 working the gay bogeyman to shave off some black evangelicals, but this debacle is really going to test their PR machine. The Ken-bot’s working this damage control as hard as he can. (Reuters):

Public anger over the slow government response to Hurricane Katrina could deal a long-term blow to the Republican Party’s aggressive effort to woo black voters, already the most loyal Democratic bloc.

The high-profile Republican effort to win black support became much tougher, analysts said, after days of images of poor and largely black crowds pleading in vain for help in a devastated New Orleans. The resulting outcry included pointed questions about the role of race and class in the government’s response.

There is so much anger out there, I think it is going to be very difficult for Republicans to break through to African Americans,” said Ron Walters, director of the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland.

“This is extremely damaging — it’s a powerful, emotional, family-oriented issue that goes right to the heart of people,” he said. “Mistakes like this have a shelf life. This is going to be with us for a long, long time.”

A poll released on Thursday by the Pew Research Center found a huge racial divide in perceptions of the disaster, with 66 percent of blacks saying the response would have been quicker if the storm victims had been white, while 77 percent of whites disagreed.

David Bositis, an analyst of black politics at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said the storm’s aftermath would feed existing doubts about Republicans among many blacks. “The problem for Republicans in terms of getting more black support is that African Americans don’t trust the Republican Party,” he said. “You can look at what happened with Katrina as a further betrayal of trust.”

Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican Party, launched the effort to build black support after Bush increased his share of the African-American vote in 2004 from 9 percent — the worst Republican showing since Barry Goldwater in 1964 — to 11 percent.

Republicans stepped up the recruitment of black candidates for congressional and statewide offices and Mehlman, who took over as party chairman in January after managing Bush’s re-election, met repeatedly with black groups. Mehlman rejected any suggestion Katrina would hurt the appeal of Republicans in the black community and said it did not require a change in Republican strategy.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding