Steele hasn't filled pledge to make Republican Party more attractive to blacks

By Mike DeBonis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 11:42 PM

For much of the past year, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele has spent his time riding a motor coach plastered with a message: "Fire Pelosi."

Fire Nancy Pelosi, the voters did.

But the other, all but forgotten, promise of Steele's ascension to the top party post does not seem to have materialized - to make the GOP somehow more attractive to African Americans.

No better evidence could be found than in Steele's back yard - Prince George's County, where he first came to political prominence by leading the county's Republican committee.

In the most hotly contested statewide race, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) received eight of nine votes cast in Prince George's - improving on his 2006 result, when opponent Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., managed a full 20 percent of the vote. In terms of raw vote, the predominantly black county's electorate delivered nearly 30,000 more votes for O'Malley than it did four years ago - even amid fears that a ballot without President Obama on it would deeply depress turnout. Meanwhile, the county's delegation to Annapolis remained as thoroughly Democratic as before.

Ehrlich (R) did better in Baltimore, O'Malley's home base, where he won 16 percent of the vote.

Let's rewind a bit: In the tough weeks after the 2008 elections, when Republicans feared being sent into the wilderness for a generation, Steele offered a version of the change that voters had embraced at the polls. And before Steele embarked on a series of gaffes that alienated much of the traditional party base, he promised that his party would campaign mightily in black precincts.

The sentiment was memorably expressed when Steele told the Washington Times that Republicans needed to make the party's issues of low taxes and free markets appealing to "urban-suburban hip-hop settings."

He accused his party of being "afraid to really embrace civil rights" and grandly said that "you cannot win in this country a statewide or a national election without the black vote."

"The Republican Party no longer does outreach," he said. "Outreach is a cocktail party where you put your arm around a black friend and say, 'Look who I know,' and that's about it. What I want the party to do and focus on [are] its coalitions: Know the major religious players, business players of both parties in your state."

Attaboy, Mike: You have led the GOP from the wilderness, a generation (minus two years) ahead of schedule.

But in terms of "urban-suburban hip-hop settings" - a moniker he'd perhaps apply to the residents of the richest majority-black county in the nation - he has made little progress.

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