By Black America Web
WASHINGTON - There hasn’t been a black Republican in Congress since J.C. Watts left office in 2003. But at least 38 black GOP candidates in 21 states are on ballots for the November general election, with several challenging incumbent black Democrats and others with high name recognition.
In Chicago’s Second Congressional District, for example, Jesse Jackson Jr. won the seat in 2008 with 90 percent of the vote.
This time, he is being challenged by Isaac Hayes, a conservative black Republican who also has strong ties to the faith community. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was in Chicago to lend a hand to Hayes’ campaign for the district, which includes the south side of Chicago. Hayes is also highlighting Jackson’s troubles – revelation of an extramarital relationship and possible ties to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich - to bolster his image as the honest candidate.
Timothy Johnson, vice chairman of the North Carolina Republicans, says Hayes’ race is just one example of the high visibility Republican candidates are carrying in the midterm election.
“Blacks do not all look alike. We do not all think alike. We do not all sound alike. We are just as diverse as the white community,” Johnson told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
“We have options. We have always had options. With the caliber of people we have running for office this year, we can have quality representation on both sides of the aisle,” said Johnson, who also leads the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a North Carolina-based organization that encourages alternative choices in policy and politics.
But Robert Smith, a political science professor at San Francisco State University, says he doubts there will be a large number of black Republicans elected this year to Congress.
“Sure, there is a large number, but how many of them are serious candidates?” Smith said, referring to the 38 people seeking House and Senate seats across the nation.
“I think the only black Republican who is sure to win is the gentleman in South Carolina, Tim Scott,” Smith told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
Scott, Smith said, has something in common with other black Republicans who have been elected to Congress, like J.C. Watts. “He’s running in a majority white district,” he said.
Scott, who defeated the son of late longtime Sen. Strom Thurmond, faces Ben Frasier, a Democrat who also is black. Scott won the race for District One with 68 percent of the vote in a runoff. A Republican has represented that district for the last three decades.
“It’s very difficult for black Republicans to get elected to Congress. Those who have been elected were in majority white districts that were conservative,” Smith said.
“Blacks see conservatism and racism as one in the same. They see conservatism as hostile to their interest,” he said.
Two black representatives currently involved in ethics investigations — Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Charlie Rangel of New York – have black Republican challengers.
Michel Faulkner, a Harlem minister who has worked with several faith-based initiatives, is challenging Rangel to represent the 15th District of New York.
“Republicans will have a difficult challenge, even when facing black representatives involved in scandals,” Smith said. “If Adam Clayton Powell IV could not beat Charlie Rangel, I don’t believe another candidate can do it this time,” he said.
The same holds true for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, currently under fire for her handling of Congressional Black Caucus Foundation scholarship monies.
“In spite of the scandals, by the time you get to November, it’s a party line vote,” Smith said. “If these representatives were going to be unseated, it would have had to happen in the primaries.”
Timothy Johnson says black Republican candidates will show their strength in November.
“I listen to 'The Tom Joyner Morning Show.' I listen to Michael Baisden. They don’t give black Republicans a chance,” Johnson said.
“We have more love for brothers in the Nation of Islam than we have for brothers in the Republican Party,” said Johnson, who is a member of a fraternity and works at Shaw University, a private black college in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“It’s not about voting for the best party. It’s about voting for the best person for the job,” Johnson said. “It’s about choice, and that’s what is being offered in this election.”