Maryland Republicans and the Black Vote

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- If there is one lesson for the Republican Party in Maryland from Parris Glendening's narrow victory it is that the black vote should no longer be ignored.

Other GOP gubernatorial candidates did well with black voters: Ohio's Gov. George Voinovich took 40 percent of the black vote; New Jersey's Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, 25 percent; Gov. George Allen of Virginia, 25 percent, and California's Pete Wilson, 21 percent. Ellen Sauerbrey's 7 percent showing -- yes, 7 percent -- contributed significantly, if not decisively, to her 6,000-vote loss.


The Democratic Party has hardly done anything to justify the loyalty of black voters in Maryland. The Baltimore Times, a local black-owned publication, called for blacks to support Mrs. Sauerbrey for two reasons: so the Democrats would no longer take the black vote for granted, and because of her support for a school-voucher system. The explosive, but so far unexploited secret is this: In Maryland, the GOP has more to offer and more in common with blacks than does the Democratic Party.

On crime, welfare reform and abortion, the views of blacks are closer to traditional GOP positions than to Democratic ones. Blacks also favored restrictions on illegal immigrants in California. Prof. Allan Lichtman of American University points out that Governor Wilson's black support was "spurred . . . by the strong law-and-order issue and immigration. Those two things were significant in edging the black vote up."


Other issues considered GOP have widespread black support. Ninety percent of blacks making under $15,000 support school vouchers -- understandably, since those at this income level cannot afford to flee to private schools.

A recent U.S. News & World Report article on voter anger featured Ernest Baker, a black professional living in Prince George's County who "now votes Republican if he likes the GOP candidate."

"The days have to be gone when you just walk into the booth and vote for one party," Mr. Baker was quoted as saying. His concerns mirror those of a traditional GOP platform: family values, a balanced budget and the federal debt, and failure of health-care reform.

Yet the one-quarter of Marylanders who are black do not vote Republican. They backed Bill Clinton by almost 9-1 in 1992. The two minority congressional districts in Maryland are represented by liberal blacks, Kweisi Mfume and Al Wynn.

The Maryland GOP should not write off the black vote. According to Forbes magazine, the number of black-owned businesses increased by one-third during the 1980s. Median income for married black couples has reached $33,450. The number of black college students is up by 150 percent, and the percent of blacks with a college degree is higher by almost 50 percent since 1980. So much for the so-called "12 years of neglect" under Presidents Reagan and Bush.

The Republican Bret Schundler won the mayoralty in Jersey City in 1992, where only 6 percent of the voters are registered Republicans, 65 percent are minorities, and the Democrats had been in power since 1917. Lessons of his campaign:

* Go after the black vote. Campaign in black neighborhoods and churches. Do not make the traditional GOP mistake of "electoral redlining," writing off the black vote.

* Commit to choice in education. It is often overlooked how important this is to low-income families.


* Ignore Jesse Jackson and other so-called black leaders. Ignore their cries of racism. Go directly to the voters: Mr. Jackson, campaigning against Mr. Schundler, said a vote for him supported "the values of South Africa." The "leaders' " message is old, their performance weak, and their credibility diminished. Stress crime and welfare reform and don't let the racist taunts shake you.

* Treat all voters as equals with the same values. Do not shift to the left to appeal to blacks. According to a poll by Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates, "Black voters were more likely to support cutting the sales tax, school choice and requiring prison inmates to work in jail to pay their own cost."

It is not a difference in values that separates blacks and the GOP, but a difference in perception. While 33 percent of blacks identify themselves as conservative, according to a June 1992 report of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, only 8 percent of them consider themselves Republican. The problem for the GOP is that more blacks think and act Republican than vote Republican.

Republicans have scored more than 40 percent of the vote in recent state-wide elections in Maryland but have still not done well with black voters. With Barbara Mikulski and Parris Glendening up in four years, the state GOP will have the opportunity to defeat two tax-and-spend liberals who draw massive black support though their views are not shared by significant numbers of blacks. If the next round of GOP candidates competes for these voters GOP losses will start turning into wins.

Jonathan Paul Yates is on the staff of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-6th district.