McCain Has a Tough Sell to Black Folks

Published April 23, 2008

Posted April 21, 2007 – Republican Sen. John McCain apparently has a new multi-tiered effort to draw in Black voters: Attack Sen. Barack Obama at every turn; reinvent his record on civil rights; and make sure he has a large African-American man next to him as the cameras follow him on the campaign trail.

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McCain, who, unlike the Democrats, has vanquished his intra-party rivals, rolled into Alabama Monday, sounding more like a civil rights leader than the conservative Republican he says he is. He even picked the site of “Bloody Sunday,” one of the most notorious clashes in civil rights history, to make his point. In a solemn remembrance of the brutal beatings of Blacks by segregationist Whites on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, McCain praised John Lewis, now a Georgia Democratic congressman, who had his skull fractured as a young marcher in the movement.

"There must be no forgotten places in America , whether they have been ignored for long years by the sins of indifference and injustice, or have been left behind as the world grew smaller and more economically interdependent," McCain said Monday. "In America , we have always believed that if the day was a disappointment, we would win tomorrow. That's what John Lewis believed when he marched across this bridge."

These words from the senator who in 1983 opposed a Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday and, who seven years later, was the deciding vote that helped President George H.W. Bush sustain his veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1990. The bill would have added teeth to several anti-discrimination laws that had been neutered by the U.S. Supreme Court. It was a vote that infuriated Black leaders at the time. In fact, as McCain cast his vote against overriding the veto, Ku Klux Klansman David Duke watched in glee from one end of the Senate gallery, while the Rev. Jesse Jackson scowled from the other.

Earlier this month, with a chance to make amends with Black leadership – and to show that he is indeed a “compassionate conservative” – McCain opted to stand by that vote of 18 years ago, sparking a new round of outrage by reiterating false claims that the measure would have forced employers to adhere to hiring quotas.

That’s unlikely to endear him to African-American voters, who abandoned the party of Abraham Lincoln in droves in 1960, to vote for John F. Kennedy, and never returned.

And the only way McCain could hope to reel in sizable number of Black voters in 2008 is that if Obama – who’s attracting about 90 percent of Black voters – were to go down in defeat to Clinton , which in turn opened up a floodgate of disgruntled Black Democrats looking to make a statement. But, ironically, McCain’s mission to help bring Obama down – by steadily dissing the Illinois Democrat – isn’t exactly the way into the Black community’s heart. When Obama stumbled over past several days – making his infamous statements about small-town White Americans “clinging to guns and religion” – McCain was there to give an extra shove. McCain was also quick to pounce on Obama for his very loose association with Bill Ayers, a former member of the 1960s radical group known as the Weather Underground. Ayers, who now teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago and is a neighbor of Obama’s, participated in an early organizing meeting when Obama was running for the Illinois Senate.

Even while attempting to cajole Black voters – as he did in Alabama – McCain acknowledges that it’s a tough sell. "I am aware the African-American vote has been very small in favor of the Republican Party," McCain said in Selma , a 70-percent Black city, as a virtually all-White crowd looked on.

Anybody who’s paid any attention to the candidates during this primary season certainly has noticed that McCain, 71, is always flanked by key supporters who, like him, are generally older White men – in contrast to the multi-cultural, cross-generational hordes of men and women who are flocking to Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaigns. So, it was hard to ignore the large, middle-age Black man standing next to McCain (he was in virtually every network TV camera shot of McCain in Alabama), who seemed as out of place as Willie Nelson on a 50 Cent CD cover.

But the Arizona senator says he’s under no delusions about his ability to convince Black folks to jump aboard the Straight Talk Express. "I am aware of the challenges, and I am aware of the fact that there will be many people who will not vote for me, but I'm going to be the president of all the people," he said.

Let’s say Barack loses out to Hillary. Are you more likely to vote for McCain or Clinton in the General Election?   Click "Discuss Now," to the upper right, and post your comment.

Written by BET-Staff

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