GOP mines for black supporters

January 28, 1998|By Harold Jackson

THE Republican Party has taken another step that will bolster conclusions that it expects to benefit politically from Christian Coalition strategies to reach minorities.

Stuart DeVeaux, named Jan. 13 to lead the Republican National Committee's outreach to the African-American community, was deputy director of the controversial Samaritan Project.

The Samaritan Project began a year ago as the Christian Coalition's program to promote spiritual and financial aid for poor minority communities. It has sponsored religious-based unity conferences in several cities, including Baltimore, but the events have been criticized by Democrats as designed to recruit African Americans and Hispanics into the GOP.

Mr. DeVeaux says his new job has nothing to do with the Samaritan Project or with Promise Keepers, the evangelical Christian men's movement that has held huge, multiracial stadium rallies. ''That work had nothing to do with politics,'' he says. ''The Samaritan Project was about love for Jesus, doing things that hadn't been done before. If anything became political, it was not at the instigation of the Republican Party.''

Church funds

Mr. DeVeaux says the Christian Coalition has given $500,000 to 40 black churches that have been desecrated by arsonists, but that doesn't mean it expects political favors in return. ''It was Christians helping Christians. A lot of black organizations didn't give a dime, or they gave much less,'' he says.

Before his affiliation with the Samaritan Project, Mr. DeVeaux worked with the Black Americans Political Action Committee. BAMPAC is the creation of former Maryland radio commentator Alan L. Keyes, whose conservative speeches fired up audiences but failed to win him the Republican presidential nomination in 1996.

Mr. DeVeaux, 27, says he also worked in the Bush-Quayle campaigns and was active in the campus Republican organization while attending Howard University in the early '90s.

He says his appointment is part of the Republican Party's emphasis on grass-roots political organization. It expects to recruit more black members by emphasizing issues, such as school choice, where many blacks may agree with conservative solutions.

He notes that former Democrat Rep. Floyd H. Flake of New York supports school vouchers. Many other African-Americans agree with Mr. Flake that the only way some inner-city children will get a good education is with a voucher that pays for them to attend private school.

But Mr. DeVeaux says he doesn't just want black voters, he wants black Republican candidates. ''People say we don't have any African-Americans running as Republicans, but we have 20 running for office in Georgia and pockets of candidates nationwide,'' he says. ''My primary job is to help get Republicans elected. We have to get more candidates to get more elected."

Drawing members

Mr. DeVeaux says his party doesn't have to have retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell at the top of the ticket to attract other African-Americans. He believes Oklahoma Rep. J. C. Watts has been a good draw for the party, and other local leaders are bringing in black voters.

How many? Mr. DeVeaux says the party doesn't break down its membership by race, but ''a significant number of NAACP members and other local civil rights leaders are joining us,'' he says.

Mr. DeVeaux says Democrats are vulnerable because they ''rely too much on last-minute courting. They have neglected African-American voters. There is a crack in the dam, and eventually that dam is going to break.''

Perhaps. But Mr. DeVeaux's enthusiasm doesn't mean the flood will occur now.

In the past, the Republican Party, even with other African-American community liaisons, has faltered when it came time to reel in black votes. The GOP remains divided on affirmative action, which moderate Republicans like General Powell have said they support.

And, as suggested by Mr. Flake's position on school choice, Democrats are learning to be more flexible when their constituencies and their party have different opinions.

White Southern Democrats, for example, are reclaiming conservative votes without switching to the Republican Party, as they did in the Reagan era.

The Republican Party has discovered it can find common ground with black voters on issues that relate to conservative, church-centered ethics. The GOP hopes such operatives as Mr. DeVeaux can make that common ground more visible.

It will be interesting to see whether Democrats react in time to stop the dam break Mr. DeVeaux envisions before it occurs.

Harold Jackson writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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