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GOP lacks diversity, says it pushes outreach

  • Story Highlights
  • Fewer than 2 percent of delegates at Republican convention are black
  • Black delegate says voters should not cast ballot based on race
  • About 90 percent of black voters support Sen. Barack Obama, polls show
  • Obama's camp says it's "flat-out false" to think voters back him because of race
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Kristi Keck
CNN
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ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) -- Watching delegates file into the Republican National Convention, it's easy to see one big challenge facing their party: Fewer than 2 percent of the delegates are black.

Thirty-six of the 2,380 Republican delegates are black, according to the nonpartisan Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

That number marks a 78 percent decline from 2004, the lowest representation in 40 years and a huge deficit when compared to the 1,079 delegates at last week's Democratic National Convention, according to the think tank report.

Clarence McKee, a black Republican delegate, said he believes the party's pro-family message is one that would resonate well with the African-American community, but he said, "Historically, blacks have voted based on a blind loyalty to Democrats."

McKee, communications chairman for Florida's Broward County Republican Executive Committee, said, "We are the ones losing out in the game."

Polls show black voters heavily favor Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama -- with about 90 percent picking him over the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain. But GOP candidates historically do not win much of the black vote. President Bush received 11 percent of the African-American vote when he ran against Sen. John Kerry in 2004.

McCain apparently isn't blind to the odds against him. After going over some of his outreach efforts, the senator from Arizona told Essence magazine, "But does that mean in my campaign I am going to get a majority of the African-American vote? Probably not.

"But what it does mean, what I've committed to, is assuring and promising all Americans whether they vote for me or not, I am going to be their president."

McKee said the black community has a problem "cutting the umbilical cord from the Democrats."

"There's a lot of peer pressure for blacks to stay with the Democrats," he said, noting that African-Americans often face ridicule when they align with Republicans.

Politics aside, some blacks have said they want to vote for Obama because it's historic to have an African-American in the race. Still, others said voting on the basis of skin color is further evidence of a racial divide. Read about how some black Republicans feel about the Obama candidacy

"It's been 45 years since Dr. King spoke about 'I Have a Dream,' " said Lenny McAllister, an African-American conservative blogger, referring to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic 1963 speech in Washington.

"One of the things he talked about was content of character, not the color of one's skin. It's when we're able to do that comfortably in an accepted fashion in America [is] when we'll be able to grow and move forward as a country and move past the wounds that we've had from race relations throughout the country."

The Obama campaign said the notion that black voters are supporting the Democrat solely on racial lines is "flat-out false."

Obama has African-Americans' support because he is the better candidate, said campaign spokesman Corey Ealons.

"If you were watching last week the scene at Mile High stadium and saw the diversity of the crowd, you would have a greater appreciation for the broad support Obama has," he said, referring to the turnout for the Democratic nominee's acceptance speech at the Denver, Colorado, convention.

However, the GOP's lack of black support is not because of a lack of effort, according to officials with the Republican National Committee. The RNC has employed a full-time press secretary to work with African-American media. McCain and Republicans have worked to have a presence with the NAACP, the National Black Chamber of Commerce and other minority advocacy groups.

To make inroads with black voters, McKee said Republicans need to do three things: get African-Americans to vote on philosophy and principle, make sure those voters register and then showcase them to the community so they don't seem like such anomalies.

As how it feels to be a black delegate in a sea of white colleagues, McKee said it's nothing new to him.

"I always stand up for principle. We are used to being a minority," he said.

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