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After a long primary season, Mitt Romney begins his contest with Barack Obama without having attracted any notable black endorsers, surrogates, or high-ranking campaign staffers.
So far, Romney’s highest-profile endorsement from a black supporter might be Aubrey Fenton, a former Burlington County New Jersey freeholder, and there are no African-Americans in the top ranks of the campaign. The two black Republicans in Congress, Tim Scott and Allan West, still haven’t endorsed the party’s nominee-apparent. The Romney campaign, which often touts its support from Hispanics,women, and other groups, did not provide any information about black supporters or staffers in response to several requests from The Daily Beast.
Romney, running against the first black president, has no chance of winning most African-American voters. But neglecting to court them at all sends the wrong message to swing voters, said political players and observers. Romney’s problem, they said, isn’t that blacks aren’t buying his message but that he hasn’t bothered to sell it to them.
Democratic consultants compared Romney’s outreach unfavorably with George W. Bush’s efforts. Tad Devine recalled Bush’s 2000 campaign, which “conspicuously did a lot of outreach to the African-American community. Even thought it didn’t affect the numbers,” he said, “it did have a very favorable impact on the campaign,” allowing Bush “to portray himself as more moderate—a conservative, but a compassionate conservative.” But Romney, said Devine, has offered “no outreach, no presence in his advertising, [save] a couple of frames in his very first ads.” Steve McMahon, a Democrat consultant, said that a “in a close election, this can be the difference between winning and losing,” pointing to George W. Bush’s 2004 margin of victory in Ohio, where he clinched a second term by upping his support among the state’s African-American voters by just 5 percentage points.
Politicos of all ideological bents stressed that Romney was in no way prejudiced against African-Americans, but also agreed that his campaign had paid little attention to the group. As Lee Siegel memorably described the candidate who once tried to appeal to a group of black kids at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade by singing the refrain of “Who Let the Dogs Out,” “Mitt Romney is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.”
Since Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy severed the remaining group’s remaining ties with the party of Lincoln, Democrats have dominated the black vote to the point where exit polls in key primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire registered 0% African-American participation. In Mississippi, the most heavily African-American state in the country, only 2 percent of GOP primary voters were black.
But in some ways, his campaign’s problem seems particular to Romney, not his party. An extensive list of “key supporters” of his 2008 presidential bid included groups of women, Hispanics, and Asian supporters, but not African-Americans. In contrast, his Republican rivals this year could all point to noteworthy black supporters or staffers. Newt Gingrich has former Rep. J.C. Watts and former presidential candidate Herman Cain on his “conservative Dream Team.” Ron Paul has an African-American spokesman, Gary Howard. Even Santorum had O’Neal Dozier, a controversial pastor and honorary chair of his Florida campaign, and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, the former Packers defensive end who endorsed him inWisconsin.