In two articles I could’ve predicted were coming this week Frum Forum worries that Rand Paul will turn minorities away from the Republican Party while Paul Gottfried denounces Republicans for worrying about such a possibility and kissing up to Martin Luther King.
This got me to wondering if pandering to nonwhites on a large scale ever works. I checked the state by state exit polls of 2008 Senate races to see whether any Republicans were able to capture the all elusive black vote. Using Senate races is better than presidential election data, where it’s the same person in each state. Having a wide variety of characters helps us determine whether there’s any candidate or election strategy out there which can cross the racial divide. Here are the results, going from most to least popular GOP candidates among African-Americans.
Kentucky- McConnell 13%
South Carolina-Graham 13%
New Jersey-Zimmer 13%
Michigan- Hoogendyk 5%
North Carolina-Dole 1%
The first and most obvious question we have to ask is, what did Lamar Alexander do? His popularity is based on his winning over black women, who were nine percent of the electorate in his state and gave him 30% support. Black males were only two percent of the Tennessee voting public, and a little algebra tells us that they probably voted around eight percent for Alexander, though CNN apparently didn’t think the sample was big enough to give us any numbers for them.
The New York Times noted Alexander’s success about a week after the 2008 election, telling us that the Senator “had a record of appointing blacks to government and education positions.” He wasn’t shy in letting the voters know it either, as this ad demonstrates.
One local blogger called the message “After You Vote For Barack Obama, Vote Lamar.” Alexander also secured the endorsement of the black mayor of Memphis. It’s worth pointing out too that the Republican was a two term governor and incumbent, giving him all the name recognition one could hope for.
So if a Republican can somehow get liberal black Democrats to vouch for him, appoint a lot of blacks to high places, be the most well known state politician and run against a weak opponent he can sometimes get a massive quarter of the African-American vote. The question is whether they can do that without demoralizing significant parts of the much larger white electorate.
Update: A commentator writes "May I point out that 'Lamar Alexander' sounds very plausibly like a typical black name?"
I hadn't thought of this. Imagine the typical Memphis voter hearing all these black voices on the radio praising "our boy Lamar" and all he's done for the community. It's certainly plausible that many of them thought that he might be "one of us," and not just politically. I must confess that this certainly works against my name recognition theory, but polls tell us that more than half of Americans can't name their Senators. I suspect governors are better known, but Alexander was in that position a long time ago.