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The GOP's Second African American Senate Candidate

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele today became the second black Republican to announce a bid for the Senate this cycle, a decision GOP operatives are hoping will broaden their appeal to African Americans -- the most Democratic of voting blocs.

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele announces his candidacy for the open U.S. Senate seat for Maryland. (AP Photo)

In his announcement speech, Steele cast himself as a bridge-builder between cultures, races and classes. "A bridge that not only brings both parties together but more importantly, brings all of us closer to one another," Steele said, according to the story written by The Post's Matthew Mosk.

Along with Steele, the GOP boasts another African American Senate candidate -- Rev. Keith Butler, who is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) in Michigan. Both men are favorites to be their party's nominee. Steele will not face any serious primary opposition; Butler could face a serious primary challenge from Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, who was in town recently to meet with officials from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. If it becomes apparent that national GOPers are seeking to push Butler to the side in favor of Bouchard, who is white, it could damage the party's outreach efforts.

In 2004, two black Republicans sought Senate seats: Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain in Georgia and perennial candidate Alan Keyes in Illinois. Cain lost in the primary; Keyes, a last-minute substitute nominee against Democrat  Barack Obama, received a meager 27 percent of the general election vote.

In the wake of the 2004 election, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman put outreach to the African American community atop his list of priorities. He has done more than 30 events with black leaders so far this year, according to RNC spokesman Danny Diaz. "Chairman Mehlman is committed to ensuring that GOP stands for 'Grow Our Party,'" said Diaz.

Many observers remain deeply skeptical about the GOP's ability to win votes from African Americans. A look at exit polling done in the 2004 presidential election shows the enormity of the party's task. Democratic nominee John Kerry won 88 percent of the black vote in the election to President Bush's 11 percent.  But it's important to note that Bush's double-digit performance among African Americans represented a 2 percent gain from his showing in 2000.

The African American populations of Michigan and Maryland are roughly 14 percent and 28 percent respectively, according to the 2000 census. So if Butler and Steele are to win in their states, they will need to not only break through the Democratic lock on black votes but also show an ability to win large numbers of white votes as well. 

Two new polls were released today in Maryland and Michigan. In Maryland, Steele trailed the Democratic primary frontrunner, Rep. Ben Cardin, 38 percent to 47 percent; Steele led the five other Democrats mentioned as candidates. A Strategic Vision (R) poll in Michigan showed Stabenow with a 47 percent to 28 percent lead over Butler.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 25, 2005; 3:40 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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