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Opinion

Election 2010 surprise: rise of black Republicans

The Republican Party has fielded more than 30 African-American candidates this year, renewing a historic alliance.

By Allen C. Guelzo / September 3, 2010



Gettysburg, Pa.

In June, a Charleston businessman named Tim Scott won the Republican nomination for South Carolina's First Congressional District, defeating Paul Thurmond, the son of state political legend Strom Thurmond, with nearly 70 percent of the primary vote.

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And Tim Scott is black.

Even more surprising, Mr. Scott's platform is a repudiation of Barack Obama's agenda. He promises to support a repeal of the health-care law, simplify the tax code, and cut federal spending. Overall, the GOP has fielded more than 30 African-American candidates for federal office, including Ryan Frazier in Colorado's Seventh Congressional District and Vernon Parker in Arizona's Third Congressional District.

And as the economy loses steam, and President Obama's poll numbers sag, the ultimate humiliation in this summer of Democratic discontent is to find Republicans trumpeting 2010 as "The Year of the Black Republicans."

A trend with historic roots

This trend defies modern identity politics. In the 2008 election, 95 percent of black voters chose Obama. Yet the attraction between blacks and the Republican Party is not so strange as it seems.

For a century after emancipation in 1863, black voters routinely lined up behind the Republican Party as the party of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. Republican presidents held open federal patronage appointments as virtually the only public offices open to Southern blacks during the Jim Crow decades. Republicans in Congress sponsored civil rights legislation in 1866, 1871, 1875, and 1957, plus the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill in 1918. In the 1930s, as New Deal Democrats began cultivating African-Americans, the Republican hold on African-American voters began to fracture. It broke down completely in the 1960s after Democratic President Lyndon Johnson endorsed the civil rights and voting rights legislation of 1964 and 1965. In 1964, 94 percent of black voters lined up behind Johnson, and every Democratic candidate since has enjoyed strong black support.

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