Tuesday, September 2, 2008

GOP convention is almost lily white

By DeWayne Wickham

The number of black delegates at this year's Republican Party convention is the lowest it has been in 40 years.

Just 36 blacks are delegates at the GOP's quadrennial meeting this week in St. Paul, Minn. That's an anemic 1.5 percent of the 2,380 delegates. The last time the Republican Party - which was created in 1854 to stop the spread of slavery - had fewer black delegates was in 1968 when only 26 blacks were delegates to the San Francisco convention.

For much of the 20th century the GOP was wracked by infighting between the party's so-called "black and tan" and "lily white" Southern factions over the racial composition of convention delegates from the former Confederate states.

That open conflict ended in the 1960s. But the Southern strategy the Republican Party embraced in 1968 helped limit the GOP's outreach to blacks - and the growth in the number of black convention delegates. Four years ago there were 167 black GOP convention delegates - the most ever.

Last week there were 1,079 black delegates at the Democratic Party's convention in Denver. That's more than a 500 percent increase over the 209 blacks who were delegates to the party's 1968 convention in Chicago.

Three years ago, Ken Mehlman, then the GOP chairman, apologized in a speech to the NAACP for his party's Southern strategy. He said: "Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way, or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization."

"We were wrong" to do that, Mehlman admitted.

But as the minuscule number of black delegates at this year's Republican convention makes clear, the GOP still has a lot of work to do to overcome that sorry history - and win a decent share of the black vote.

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