GOP stepping up appeals to Black candidates, voters

Republicans are stepping up their recruitment of Black candidates in an effort to make inroads with Black voters ahead of November's midterm elections.

While Black candidates and voters have historically been a reliable group for the Democratic Party, Republicans say their recruitment and messaging strategies stand to resonate with the crucial voting bloc. 

Eighty Black Republicans have filed this cycle alone to run in House races across the country, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Black Republicans are also hoping to make inroads in other races. In Georgia, Herschel Walker is running against incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and in Illinois, Richard Irvin, the first Black mayor of Aurora, is running in the GOP primary to challenge incumbent Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D).

There are two Black Republicans in the House, one in the Senate and none in a governor’s mansion.

But the effort comes on the heels of Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears’s (R) historic victory in November, when she became the first woman of color elected to statewide office in the commonwealth. Black Republicans, including Dels. A.C. Cordoza and Otto Wachsmann, also saw gains in the commonwealth’s off-year election. 

“The Black community is seeing momentum,” said Paris Dennard, national spokesman and director of Black media affairs for the Republican National Committee (RNC). “They’re seeing that Black Republicans can be elected.” 

Wesley Hunt, a Black GOP House candidate who cruised to victory in his primary in Texas’s 38th Congressional District last month, is among the Republicans leading the effort to support candidates of color running for Congress. 

Last week, Hunt launched Hellfire PAC, a group devoted to electing Republicans to the House. As a part of the launch, Hunt endorsed fellow Black congressional candidates John James in Michigan’s 10th Congressional District and Jeremy Hunt in Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District. 

“We need leadership, but we need examples,” Hunt said in an interview with The Hill. “You would be shocked at how many people send me text messages or direct messages that say, ‘Hey, Wesley. Thank you so much for saying this. I feel the same way you do. I just don’t feel welcome in the party.’” 

“That’s because they don’t see as many people of color in the party,” he added. 

Hunt says he hopes his effort and the others taken by the GOP establishment will improve upon the party’s largely unsuccessful past attempts to court Black voters.

“The Republican Party has not done the best job in messaging to minority communities, and it’s something we have got to address,” he said. 

RNC community centers, which are designed to help with candidate recruitment and voter outreach in their respective communities, are among the efforts the party has deployed to connect with more minority voters. Last year, the committee announced it was committing $2 million toward Black community centers. 

The RNC has also opened community centers aimed at appealing to the Asian Pacific Islander, Hispanic and Native American communities.

“It is just part of what we see as the growing influence of the Republican Party’s inclusiveness and intentional engagement efforts to earn the vote of the Black community,” Dennard said. 

Republicans also point to the party’s messaging on issues, such as the economy and crime, they say stand to appeal to Black voters. 

Thirty-five percent of people of color said inflation has caused a “major financial strain in their lives,” according to a Wall Street Journal survey released earlier this week. On top of that, the poll found 44 percent of Black women appeared to be among the groups in the survey that reported being negatively impacted by inflation’s “major financial strain in their lives.” 

Perhaps even more concerning for Democrats is the erosion of the party’s support among Black voters. According to The Wall Street Journal, the gap between the number of Black voters favoring Democratic and Republican candidates shrunk from 56 percentage points last November to 35 points this month. And support for electing a Republican to Congress rose from 12 percent in November to 27 percent. 

“When you see the rising prices in gas or rising prices in goods and everything else, the Black community is actually coming toward accepting the idea that maybe Republican policies are better than we see in the socialist values of the Biden administration,” Hunt said. 

Republicans also argue they have made inroads on their messaging on crime with Black voters, tying Democrats to rising crime rates as well as progressive calls to defund the police. 

“When you have a party that literally just took away funding from the very people that keep us safe, you’re going to see a backlash,” Hunt said. 

While there certainly are progressive Democrats who support the movement to defund the police, other Democrats, particularly from the establishment wing of the party, including President Biden, have recently called for more law enforcement funding. 

“We’re not in the business of defunding the police,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist and senior adviser to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We’re in the business of reimagining police and making sure we reform the police so that Black and Brown communities and Black and Brown constituencies are not mishandled or killed at the hands of law enforcement.” 

Seawright added that the most loyal Black Democratic voters tend to be more politically moderate. 

“Overall from a policy perspective, we tend to be more center-left, particularly more seasoned African American voters,” Seawright said. “That’s why you saw the presidential preference primary play out the way it did, particularly when we got past Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada and went south.” 

When asked about potential GOP inroads in the Black community this cycle, Seawright said he did not believe that the GOP platform would ultimately play well with the majority of Black voters. 

“The Republican Party is going to have a very hard time trying to recruit African American candidates when you look at their policies and positions that I think will be more harmful long term to African American voters than anything else based on their platform, based on their policy positions, and based on some of the commentary and comments, and some of the leadership within the Republican Party,” he said. 

Many Republicans are not convinced the party will win the voting bloc this cycle.

“The Black community has such a long history of voting almost exclusively Democrat, so I want to wait to see some more actual election results before declaring that we’ve persuaded a large swath of that community to come over to our side,” one national Republican strategist said. 

Instead, Republicans say they are viewing this as a stepping stone to something bigger between the GOP and the Black community. 

“It can’t just be a flash in the pan,” Hunt said. “We have to work this hard, this tirelessly every single cycle.” 

Both Black Republicans and Democrats warn that the Black voting bloc should never be viewed as a political monolith. 

“I don’t think any political party can make any assumptions or take them for granted,” Seawright said. 

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