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updated 11/8/2006 9:14:25 PM ET 2006-11-09T02:14:25
COMMENTARY

Black voters won one and, maybe, lost one in Tuesday’s elections.b And I’m not talking about the House and the Senate.

If you think the Democrats’ seizing of the House is a victory in and of itself, think again. Sure, it’s nice that the party with which Black voters have had a 40-year relationship is back in the driver’s seat in one of the most influential legislative bodies in the world. But that’s sort of like being glad that your cheating, ex-spouse is back for another go ’round. Yeah, maybe he’s changed, but I doubt it.

Don’t assume for a minute that the conservative politicians the Democratic leadership recruited to run in the mid-term elections are going to be all warm and fuzzy to us.

No chairmanship for black Democrats?
Already, Nancy Pelosi, who will become the first female Speaker of the House, has signaled that Black ranking Democrats on House committees, the ones who have stood by the party decade after decade, may not get their just reward to serve as chairmen. Detroit’s John Conyers as head of the House Judiciary Committee? Harlem’s Charlie Rangel as head of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee? Come on, now! After all, how would it look in 2008 for those radicals to be the front men for the Democratic Party as they try to appeal to mainstream America?

The presumptive Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, like her husband, Bill, is a centrist. Read: They have no problems with throwing the Black community’s interests overboard if that means getting elected to office. That is what Bill and Hillary did in 1992 when they out-maneuvered Democratic National Committee Chairman Ron Brown and the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. – who almost had the Party on lock – by forming the Democratic Leadership Committee, rather than working in the traditional (more liberal) DNC. When Lani Guinier, Clinton’s longtime “friend” and nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, suggested that there are times you must subjugate the desires of the majority to give power to the minority, Clinton dumped her, caving in to rumblings from conservative Republicans and Dixiecrats. Some of those same conservative Democrats, now calling themselves Bluedog Democrats, are whispering in Pelosi’s ear – and she’s listening.

Black get toe-hold into GOP
The real victory from yesterday is that Black voters have gained a substantial toe-hold in the Republican Party. Since at least 1994, many African Americans have concluded that putting all our eggs in one basket no longer makes sense, and that true participation means having a seat at both tables.

This strategy might be just the thing to guarantee that Pelosi does not stray from the traditional practice of granting chairmanships to the next persons in line and help Democrats to realize that they must offer African Americans more than lip service.

Building on the 2004 presidential election, in which 11 percent of African Americans voted Republican – a 2-percent hike over the 2000 presidential election – Tuesday’s races might have signaled a historical turn. Substantial numbers of African Americans sided with Republicans in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and not just when the Republican candidate was Black.

Sen. George Allen, a White Republican, who may or may not have frequently used the N-word in his youth, picked up the endorsement of scores of Black ministers because he, like them, support a ban on same-sex marriages.

In Maryland, Michael Steele, the charismatic Black Republican lieutenant governor, ran hard with the support of scores of prominent Black Democrats and thousands of African-American well-wishers from across the state. In majority-Black Prince George’s County, 31 percent of the electorate voted for him, as did 21 percent of people in majority-Black Baltimore. Preliminary exit poll data show that Steele snagged 25 percent of the state’s Black vote.

Expect slug fest in '08
OK, what does this mean? It means that in 2008, in which the race for the White House will likely be a dragged-out, smack-down slug fest between the Democrats and  the Republicans for every single vote, the Black vote can no longer be taken for granted. If 11percent of African Americans voted for Bush in 2004, Republicans will be hoping to build upon that two years from now, which is key in states such as Ohio (where Republicans got 16 percent of the Black vote in 2004) and Pennsylvania, and could mean the difference between keeping the White House Republican or losing it.

“It benefits African Americans to have two parties vying for their vote,” said Republican Party adviser Tara Wall. “It doesn’t benefit us as Black voters to give 90 percent of our vote to one party. We need to be able to come to the table and level the playing field and have a say in both parties.”
She said Democrats should be worrying.
Obviously, Democrats will have to work hard to staunch the hemorrhage of the Black vote. Democrats can no longer count on tradition, because, after all, hundreds of thousands of African-American voters don’t even remember the “We Shall Over Come” coalition days of old.

They remember the more modern slights – such as Maryland Democrats passing over former NAACP Chairman Kweisi Mfume to endorse a White candidate. And Republicans will have to do their own version of the Democratic twist and shout to keep together a coalition of enough Blacks to make a difference and uber-conservative Whites who are not partial to things like affirmative action and an increase in the minimum wage.

But all in all, I agree with you Nancy Pelosi. Today is a new day. Have you called Charlie Rangel, yet?

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