Dole and the black vote NAACP snub: Republican candidate misses chance to bring more than Powell into fold.

July 13, 1996

THE FINAL report of the Republican National Committee on Minority and Ethnic Participation was presented Jan. 22, 1988, amid all the ballyhoo, pomp and circumstance one might expect of a long-awaited document that was supposed to dramatically alter the party's complexion. It wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. Republicans continue to pay lip service to wanting more minorities as members, and have made some gains in that regard, but the party is loath to abandon its successful "Southern strategy" based on the appeasement of white men.

That being so, it has been surprising to some African Americans to see Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole so eager to ** hook former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell as his running mate. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, however, Mr. Dole made it clear it is the general he wants, not black votes, by shunning an invitation to address the 87th annual convention of the NAACP. Mr. Powell has become one of those icons who, like pop music star Michael Jackson, transcends race. It's Mr. Powell's popularity that entices Mr. Dole, not his ethnicity.

Too bad. The Republicans are missing an opportunity. The NAACP made President Clinton feel like one of the family when he visited the convention. But relatives have been known to fight. Mr. Clinton's rightward lean, especially on welfare reform and affirmative action, has disappointed many black voters. Others have been listening to conservatives such as Justice Clarence Thomas, Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts and talk show host Armstrong Williams urge them to look beyond the Democrats.

But Mr. Dole let the chance to gain some ground among African-American voters slip by. He had little to lose. Few conservatives would have been upset by his addressing as venerable an American organization as the NAACP, especially if his message was right.

Mr. Powell couldn't conceal his disappointment at the "schedule conflict." Though unconnected, his announcement that he would not be a major campaigner for Dole appeared somewhat retaliatory. The general isn't going to risk his stature among blacks for Bob Dole. Republicans should realize they can't have their Southern strategy and Colin Powell, too.

Pub Date: 7/13/96

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