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by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Schwarzenegger Plays The Race Card As Ratings Sink (2005)

(PNS) -- The Arnold Effect was on awesome display November 7. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger trounced his hapless and ineffectual Democratic opponent and nearly pulled a few Republicans along with him into other state offices.

That's quite a feat for a politician who seemed dead in the political water with voters and even deader with black voters after the initiatives he backed in last year's ill-fated and ill-timed special election went down to a crushing defeat. Schwarzenegger, however, read the political tea leaves, scrambled fast and re-burnished his image as a moderate, centrist Republican who could reach across the political aisles and do business with Democrats.

He didn't stop there. Suddenly there was a Schwarzenegger sighting in places he had rarely been spotted before, and that was at black events. He swayed to the gospel beat at black churches, posed with black cowboys at a popular black rodeo, made a well-timed and well-publicized slew of black appointments and went to bat for the embattled King-Drew public hospital in South Los Angeles.

He even corralled a group of high-profile black ministers to tout his re-election campaign. It worked. The kinder, gentler, retooled minority-friendly Arnold did what no Republican in living memory had managed to do. He got the raves of many blacks, and even more of their votes. On election eve, nearly 30 percent of blacks gave the governor a favorable rating.

The Arnold Effect did two things for the GOP. It sent the message that a Republican governor could actually do more than pay lip service to the GOP's pledge to make itself a party of diversity. It provides the party a potential model it desperately needs in order to rebound from the shellacking it took nationally.

It won't be easy. GOP strategists are walking a thin political tightrope. Republican presidents from Nixon to Bush Jr. have bagged the White House, and in the past decade Congress too, by courting and revving up evangelicals, hardcore conservatives and Southern and rural white voters. They've fired up passions on welfare and big government, abortion and gay rights. But that one-dimensional approach to winning past elections won't be enough to win future ones.

The ranks of the independent voters have swelled in recent years and many of them aren't tightly corralled in any ideological camp. Their votes can spell victory or defeat in the key battleground states. Schwarzenegger could mobilize many of these voters for the GOP, and many of them are black.

In 2000 nearly three-fourths of African Americans identified themselves as Democrats. By 2002 that number had dropped to slightly more than 60 percent, according to a recent survey by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group devoted to African American issues. But an increasing number, especially those 18 to 35, identify themselves as independents. One-fourth of black adults now characterize themselves that way.

In 2004 Bush slightly punctured the myth that blacks in California won't vote Republican. Bush got more than ten percent of their vote. This was the fourth highest of any state. Schwarzenegger can tap into the anger and discontent that many blacks have with the Democrats. That could also be a plus for the GOP. When Republicans have actively courted blacks they've had phenomenal success.

The governor's race in Maryland in 2002 is a case in point. The Democrats had a huge voter majority over the Republicans in the state, and for nearly four decades had held a tight grip on the statehouse. But Republican governor candidate Robert L. Erich, Jr. and lieutenant governor candidate Michael L. Steele, a black Republican, openly appealed to black and younger voters. Erich and Steele got nearly 15 percent of the black vote. That was the biggest percentage of black votes ever for a Republican ticket in Maryland. In Baltimore, they got 30 percent of the black vote. Their success was no aberration.

That success encouraged Steele to make a bid for the Senate, and he did it by transforming himself, as Schwarzenegger did, into a centrist Republican that would work with Democrats and court black voters. He lost, but Steele's political pirouette kept him close, and the GOP should take note of that too.

The Democrats will do everything they can to dampen the Arnold Effect. They will remind voters that he goes against the political and philosophical grain of what the GOP stands for. But the Democrats' attacks won't matter much in 2008. Bush is out, and the GOP field is so wide open that a centrist GOP candidate, such as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney or former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, could emerge from the pack as the GOP standard bearer in 2008. That would further enhance Schwarzenegger's vote-pulling power. GOP leaders will do everything they can to put him on the national campaign trail to woo and court independents and black voters.

The modest breakthrough Schwarzenegger made with black voters gives the GOP a faint glimmer of hope for 2008.

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Albion Monitor   November 8, 2006   (

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