Republicans aim to attract more African-Americans to the party Black group says GOP must act on talk of inclusion

June 26, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Howard County's black leaders are hoping to make the minority vote more influential this year, and black Republicans are trying to help their party win a share of that vote in what's shaping up to be a crucial county election year.

The African-American Republican Club of Howard County and the Howard County Young Republicans held a 90-minute introspective session last night called "Blacks and the Republican Party" in the hope of finding ways to attract more blacks to the GOP.

In contrast to other, more solidly Democratic counties, where only about 10 percent of blacks vote Republican, such introspection isn't necessarily wasted in Howard. In 1994, Columbia pollster Brad Coker estimates, Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker won three-fifths of the black vote, Dennis R. Schrader won a quarter to possibly one-third in his successful GOP bid for County Council, and Republican Martin G. Madden won more than 20 percent in his winning Senate race.

This year, gaining support from black voters could prove more crucial. Democrats and black leaders are promising more aggressive registration efforts and get-out-the-vote campaigns. Also, the race for county executive is wide open, and Democrats have a chance to regain control of the County Council.

African-American Republican Club members said last night that to win more black voters, the party needs to not only preach inclusion but also back it up by better tailoring policy discussions and rhetoric to black concerns.

"I don't need whites to say I can be a Republican," said Delroy Cornick, president of the club. "Address some of the issues, and know that some of our issues are different."

In affluent Howard County, some black Republicans argue, the presence of a large black middle class should help the GOP attract more voters without straying too far from core conservative issues. GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey recently met with black business leaders in Howard as part of an aggressive strategy of courting black voters.

But Republicans might find it tougher to win the support of black voters in county elections. Neither GOP candidate for county executive can expect the kind of unified support from black leaders that Ecker enjoyed in 1994.

County executive hopefuls Charles C. Feaga and Schrader must first court conservatives in the GOP primary, which likely will draw only hundreds of black voters out of the 15,000 to 20,000 Republicans expected to go to the polls in mid-September.

Moreover, a few black leaders scoff at the GOP's talk of "big tent" politics, arguing that Sauerbrey's conservative views, including her stance against affirmative action, give her and local Republican supporters such as Schrader little chance of winning significant backing from blacks.

"Sauerbrey is a constant reminder of what can happen to blacks and of what the Republican Party stands for," said Sherman Howell, vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County. "It's ludicrous to think that [Republicans] are going to have a substantial amount of support in the black community."

In addition, Schrader and Feaga might face tough questions from Howell and other black activists upset at what they perceive to be a lack of support for minorities in county government and a lack of action on economic issues such as affordable housing.

Some of those questions will be put to county political candidates tomorrow at the 1998 Political Candidates Forum being held by the African Americans in Howard County Political Action Committee.

The 8: 30 a.m. forum -- to be held on the Loyola College campus in Owen Brown -- likely will provide the basis of the PAC's endorsements for school board, County Council and county executive candidates.

Pub Date: 6/26/98

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