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Published Sunday, Nov. 19, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News


Blacks still aren't won over by GOP

It's one of the great ironies of a presidential campaign filled with them that George W. Bush, who paid more attention to black voters than many of his Republican predecessors, appears to have lost that vote by as big a margin as any GOP nominee in the past quarter-century.

He had hoped his ``compassionate conservative'' message and his inclusive party convention would help kill the image of the GOP as an almost exclusively white party and allow him to make inroads into the black community's traditional overwhelming support for Democrats.

But on Election Day, the gulf between black and white voters was vast.

Exit polls showed Al Gore received 90 percent of the black vote. Bush got just 8 percent. The breakdown among whites wasn't nearly as stark, but was still significant given that white voters make up about 80 percent of the electorate. Bush out-polled Gore by about 54 percent to 42 percent among white voters.

Nationally, blacks made up about 10 percent of the voters Nov. 7, the same as in 1996. Strong black support for Democrats dates from the 1950s, when the party began championing civil rights, with Republicans often strongly opposed. That support continued this year.

In fact, black voters were key to Gore's showing in several important battleground states.They probably won Pennsylvania for Gore, according to Keith Reeves, an associate political-science professor at Swarthmore College who has studied racial politics. The black vote, combined with strong union support, helped secure Michigan for Gore as well.

And in Florida, black voters played a major role in his surprising showing in a state where Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.

Gore pulled in 92 percent of the black vote in the South, but it wasn't enough to help him offset the Republican Party's strength there. Bush carried every Southern state -- except possibly Florida -- by winning twice as much support from whites in the region as Gore, 66 percent to 31 percent.

Bush's overall showing among blacks had to disappoint the Republicans.

The party spent about $1 million during the last month of the campaign to place commercials on black-owned urban radio stations, a first for the GOP. Bush talked about issues that matter to black voters, including improving the performance of inner-city schools. And he had prominent black support from former Gen. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, a former adviser on Soviet affairs to the elder Bush.

Reeves said George W. Bush didn't make headway among blacks because his actions belied his rhetoric about inclusion. Bush gave a speech during the primaries at Bob Jones University, which had a ban on interracial dating at the time. He also failed to call for the South Carolina Legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag flying over the state Capitol.

``I think it underscores the great challenge that is ahead for the Republican Party, which has talked about trying to put together a `big tent.' And, for some reason, African-Americans are still extraordinarily skeptical,'' Reeves said.

As a result, in 2000, Bush failed to match the 16 percent that Gerald Ford received from black voters in 1976. Bush made up for that failure by winning 54 percent of the white vote, up from the 46 percent Dole won in 1996 and the 40 percent his father won in 1992. But that percentage didn't match the approximately 60 percent white support that Republican nominees received in the 1980s. If the younger Bush had attracted a similar percentage of white voters, this year's race would not have been so close.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

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