Jesse Jackson, the spellbinding "country preacher" from Chicago, brought leaders of the Republican Party to their feet yesterday by saying the GOP could have an "infusion" of millions of black voters if it bids seriously for their attention.
In a keynote speech to the Republican National Committee's winter meeting, Jackson, a disciple of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and president of Operation PUSH, said, "I'm not just speaking theoretically when I say blacks will vote for Republicans who appeal to their vested interests and engage in reciprocity."
"Mutual need is the basis of an alliance. Black people need the Republican Party to compete for us so that we have real alternatives for meeting our needs," Jackson said in a speech whose solicitous tone visibly surprised some of the party leaders.
At the end of the speech, which the Republicans interrupted frequently with vigorous applause, national chairman Bill Brock said, "I wish we had Republicans who could talk like that."
Jackson's keynote address came shortly after the national committee overwhelming put down a move by Republican supporters of Ronald Reagan to elect the party's first black co-chairwoman.
Mary Crisp, who has been openly critical of the advocacy of "idological purity" by Reagan supporters, was reelected easily over Gloria Toote, a Harlem lawyer who made a seconding speech for Reagan at the 1976 Republican National Convention. Toote was defeated 118 to 37.
Officials of the Republican Party, which plans to spend nearly $700,000 this year recruiting and assisting black candidates and appealing to black voters, appeared buoyed by the warmth of Jackson's remarks. They denied that Toote's defeat was a signal that high offices in the party apparatus were closed to blacks.
"To the contrary.She sought this office as a demonstration of the party's commitment to open the door to all. She has run a very constructive race, and we will be advantaged by the race, not disadvantaged," Brock said.
Jackson, a registered Democrat and delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention, told the 162 Republican committee members that it is in the interest of blacks to gain the attention of Republicans.
"The only protection people have politically is to remain necessary.We must pursue a strategy that prohibits one party from taking us for granted and another party from writing us off," Jackson said.
The Democrats have no incentive to register blacks because they already comprise one-fourth of the party's total vote, Jackson said. Republicans have no incentive to register blacks because "we tend to vote Democratic," he added.
But if the Republican Party had nominated Sen. Edward W. Brooks (R-Mass.) as its vice presidential candidate, "Republicans probably would still be in power," Jackson said.
To attract black voters, Jackson cautioned the party must involve more blacks in its leadership. He added, "An all-white Republican national, state and county leadership apparatus designing a strategy to attract black voters will not work."
But his presence as keynote speaker, Jackson said, was "an indication of a new realization by this party that blacks do exist and are here today."
Later, Jackson said he did not regard Toote's defeat as a contradiction of recent Republican efforts to broaden the base of the party.
"We've lost (leadership contests) in the Democratic Party. That doesn't mean we went home and despaired," he said.
Jackson was critical of President Carter's State of the Union address, saying, "If you listened to that speech you'd have to think someone got lazy and used one of Mr. Ford's old speeches."
He said he "didn't see much evidence of a fulfilment of (Carter's) commitment to black people," but he cautioned the Republican Party against "anti-Cartering (its) way back into power" rather than devising its own social and economic programs. The Republicans, in one of a series of public events designed to rehabilitate the party's Watergate-damaged image, celebrated the 25th anniversary of Dwight D. Eisenhower's first presidential inauguration with a $50-a-plate dinner at the Sheraton Park hotel.
The national committee meeting is scheduled to resume today.