Bush Tries to 'Steele' the Black Vote

Despite the odds against him, President George W. Bush is sticking to his Herculean effort to get blacks to support his policies and programs — and he has an outspoken African American as a new ally. 

"The president is very committed to making racial progress," said White House spokesman Jimmy Orr, "addressing many issues that are important to the African-American community, such as tax relief and education, and he has directed the attorney general to undertake a review on exactly how we can eliminate racial profiling."

However, the task of winning over black Americans won't be easy. At last summer's convention, the GOP made an all out effort to appeal to African-Americans. But when November rolled around, blacks voted for Democratic candidate Al Gore by a nine-to-one margin.

So, the president has met with Congressional Black Caucus members and attended events important to the many members of black community. He also has proposed a series of faith-based initiatives that are intended specifically to aid poor and minority communities by sending funds to black churches.

GOP Man of Steele

At the same time, the Republican Party is redoubling efforts to earn the support of African-Americans.  In doing so, it has sought the help of Michael Steele, the head of the Maryland Republican Party and the only African-American member of the GOP executive committee.

Steele is making an appeal to black Americans to give the GOP a chance. "I'm just asking them to be open and listen to candidates, Republican candidates, and listen to the Republican agenda in an honest way and don't fall into the trap: 'Well, because my mama and daddy were Democrats, I need to be too'," he said.

Steele said he's convinced that President Bush is sincere in trying to help black Americans. He believes that if African-Americans give the GOP a chance, they will be attracted to Republican views on education, health care and tax cuts.

Tough Task Ahead

But convincing blacks to switch party loyalty won't be easy. Blacks were drawn to the party of Abraham Lincoln in the wake of the Civil War.  But many of them turned toward the Democratic party and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal during the Great Depression int he 1930's.  Their support was solidified in the 1960s by the efforts of Lyndon Johnson during the struggle for civil rights.

"They've been there for us," Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Delegate to Congress from Washington, D.C, said of the Democratic party. "When the going gets tough, we can depend far more on Democrats than we can on Republicans."

Norton said the GOP crusade to convert blacks is an effort not to help African-Americans but to dilute black political power.

"They're trying to peel off just enough to weaken the forceful affect of the African-American block vote. We're not going to let that happen," she said.

Steele agrees with Norton that his party hasn't always been the best choice for African-Americans.

"The party's always been very good at the words, we've never walked the walk the way we should," he said.

And while Norton said the president has made progress on the issue of education, he has a long way to go before he earns black votes.

"We havent seen the 'there' there yet," she said. "We're pleased that his education bill begins to move in the right direction, but that gets all taken back by the tax cut that's going to take from Social Security and Medicare on which black people are disproportionately dependent," Norton said.

But Steele dismisses the criticism of the tax cut as class warfare.  "To sit up there and say this is a tax plan for the rich, well, last time I checked, black folks would like to be rich too," Steele said.

Steele said he has high hopes that he can lure a substantial number of blacks into the GOP, but he admits it won't happen overnight. Change, he said, is a series of small steps.