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The Keyes Complaint


Henry Clay once said he'd rather be right than be president. He got his wish. Sometimes it seems that Alan Keyes, too, would rather be correct in his own eyes than get elected to the U.S. Senate. However admirable this might be in terms of intellectual honesty, it's dumb politics. And politics is the game Mr. Keyes, the Republican nominee for the Senate, is engaged in right now.

Perhaps the most basic truth in campaigning for office is that you get elected by making friends, not by alienating people. It goes without saying that this truism applies especially to members of your own party. So Mr. Keyes' broadside against national Republican leaders for failing to provide him with adequate support was tactless at best, self-destructive at worst, unless he proves his case. Whether he actually used the word "racist" in describing party leaders in Washington, he clearly accused them of failing to come to his aid more vigorously because he is African American. So far he has failed to make his case.

Some of Mr. Keyes' complaint just doesn't hold water. He contrasts President Bush's quick campaign trip to Illinois, where a white Republican is running for the Senate against a black Democrat, to the president's failure to respond to an invitation to do likewise in Maryland. He ignores the critical importance of Illinois to the president's own prospects. Maryland is not fertile ground for Mr. Bush, as even Republican leaders here openly admit. With a 2-1 Democratic advantage in voter registration in Maryland, Mr. Keyes is a long shot himself. As for money, Mr. Keyes has gotten more from Washington so far than half the Republican candidates for the Senate. The accusation that Republican contributors are being steered away from him lacks proof, since Mr. Keyes won't cite examples.

That said, it must also be noted that with some honorable exceptions, national Republican leaders these days are not noted for courting African American candidates. Since Mr. Keyes is the only black Republican running for the Senate this year, Mr. Bush would have sent a message by coming to Maryland just for Mr. Keyes' sake. But maybe he still will.

Mr. Keyes' bitter words apparently won him some time on the convention rostrum in Houston yesterday. When the money starts flowing again from national Republican coffers, it will go as it always does to the candidates with the best prospects of winning. That's where Mr. Keyes should be directing his energies.

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