WASHINGTON - Black conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams has never voted for a Democrat for president. That could change this year with Barack Obama as the Democratic Party’s nominee.
“I don’t necessarily like his policies; I don’t like much that he advocates, but for the first time in my life, history thrusts me to really seriously think about it,” Williams said. “I can honestly say I have no idea who I’m going to pull that lever for in November. And to me, that’s incredible.”
Just as Obama has touched black Democratic voters, he has engendered conflicting emotions among black Republicans. They revel in the possibility of a black president, but wrestle with the thought that Obama doesn’t sit beside them ideologically.
“Among black conservatives,” Williams said, “they tell me privately, it would be very hard to vote against him in November.”
Perhaps sensing the possibility of such a shift, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has made some efforts to lure black voters. He recently told Essence magazine that he would attend the NAACP’s annual convention next month, and he noted that he recently traveled to Selma, Ala., scene of seminal voting rights protests in the 1960s, and “talked about the need to include ‘forgotten Americans.’”
Still, McCain has a tall order in winning black votes, no doubt made taller by running against a black opponent. In 2004, blacks chose Democrat John Kerry over President Bush by an 88 percent to 11 percent margin, according to exit polls.
J.C. Watts, a former Oklahoma congressman who once was part of the GOP House leadership, said he’s thinking of voting for Obama. Watts said he’s still a Republican, but he criticizes his party for neglecting the black community. Black Republicans, he said, have to concede that while they might not agree with Democrats on issues, at least that party reaches out to them.
“And Obama highlights that even more,” Watts said, adding that he expects Obama to take on issues such as poverty and urban policy. “Republicans often seem indifferent to those things.”
Writer and actor Joseph C. Phillips got so excited about Obama earlier this year that he started calling himself an “Obamacan” — Obama Republican.
Phillips, who appeared on “The Cosby Show” as Denise Huxtable’s husband, Navy Lt. Martin Kendall, said he has wavered since, but he is still thinking about voting for Obama.
“I am wondering if this is the time where we get over the hump, where an Obama victory will finally, at long last, move us beyond some of the old conversations about race,” Phillips said. “That possibly, just possibly, this great country can finally be forgiven for its original sin, or find some absolution.”
Yet Phillips, author of the book “He Talk Like a White Boy,” realizes the irony of voting for a candidate based on race to get beyond race.
“We have to not judge him based on his race, but on his desirability as a political candidate,” he said. “And based on that, I have a lot of disagreements with him on a lot of issues. I go back and forth.”
Michael Steele, the Republican former lieutenant governor of Maryland who lost a Senate race there in 2006, said he is proud of Obama as a black man, but that “come November, I will do everything in my power to defeat him.” Electing Obama, he said, would not automatically solve the woes of the black community.(p2)
Here’s all Barack Obama has to do to meet the world’s expectations if he’s elected U.S. president: End an unpopular war in Iraq, heal misery in nations hit by the global food crisis and stop global warming, in addition to building bridges to Muslim countries and reversing the unilateralist approach of the Bush administration. More »
Primary exit polls found that about 56 percent of Democrats younger than age 30 supported Barack Obama. Many young voters say a diverse background is an asset for a candidate. More »
An historic, unprecedented candidate will represent the Democratic Party in the November general election. His name is Barack Obama. More »