White Party, Black Party: Racial Division in American Politics

"McCain has campaigned in the African-American community more than any Republican nominee I know of," a McCain senior adviser said, although he conceded that Obama will probably win the black vote by a record margin. "Obviously, with the first African-American presidential candidate (of a major party), Obama will get a record percentage of the African-American vote. That's logical. That's to be expected."

The adviser predicted that McCain would do well -- for a Republican candidate -- with Hispanic voters, projecting that he could get as much as 40 percent of the Latino vote, in part because of his sponsorship of last year's immigration reform bill that went down to defeat.

But, so far, McCain's efforts to diversify his support have not shown very visible results. Visit a McCain public campaign event in, say, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio -- states with diverse populations -- and chances are the crowd will be 90-plus percent white. In fairness, approximately the same percentages would apply to the media assigned to the two presidential candidates.

Last December, McCain was asked on his campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express, why he thought the audiences at his campaign events in Iowa and New Hampshire were almost all white. He said it was probably because it reflected the populations of those states, both overwhelmingly white.

McCain also said the GOP would have to attract more minorities or eventually face extinction as a matter of demographic trends.

Last year, former New York Rep. Jack Kemp, who was the GOP vice presidential nominee in 1996, decried the lack of diversity within his party's ranks.

"We sound like we don't want immigration; we sound like we don't want black people to vote for us," said Kemp. "What are we going to do -- meet in a country club in the suburbs one day? If we're going to be competitive with people of color, we've got to ask them for their vote."

Black Americans, in particular, complain that Republicans have sometimes willfully overlooked them. When Tavis Smiley, the African-American radio commentator, hosted a GOP candidate's forum at Morgan State University in Baltimore, most of the top Republican candidates -- including McCain -- declined to attend, citing scheduling conflicts.

Earlier in the year, when Univision, the Spanish language network, tried to hold a Republican presidential debate, only McCain accepted. The event was canceled.

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