From NBC/NJ’s Matthew E. Berger – MSNBC.MSN.com
PITTSBURGH, Pa. — African-American Republicans told McCain Tuesday not to abandon efforts to court black voters, despite the uphill battle in facing a prominent African-American Democratic challenger, meeting participants told NBC/National Journal.
A small group of black Republican current and former elected officials met with McCain at his Virginia headquarters, carrying a message that McCain and the Republican Party should reach out to black voters through “conversation and engagement” on issues like economic policy and healthcare.
“It’s important, especially with an African American running on the Democratic side, that the party reawaken its relationship (with black voters), no matter how tattered and torn it has been over the years,” Michael Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor, said in an interview.
Included in the group were Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell — who ran lost to Ted Strickland in 2006 for Ohio governor — and former Rep. J.C. Watts, according to the campaign. Lynn Swann, the pro football Hall of Famer who ran for Pennsylvania governor in 2006, participated by conference call.
Steele said the group pressed McCain to speak before the NAACP and Urban League later this month. He said the presumptive Republican nominee promised to open dialogue with African-American leaders throughout the summer.
“When you make the fatal flawed assumption, ‘They won’t vote for us; why bother?’ you get what that assumption gives you,” said Steele, who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006.
President Bush garnered 11 percent of the African American vote in 2004, according to exit polls, a two percent increase from 2000. The Republican Party has courted black voters in recent years, specifically by seeking minority candidates for state and federal office.
But Steele said he did not believe McCain could garner 10 percent against Obama. He acknowledged that many black voters will flock to Obama, including some who have not voted in the past.
But that does not mean the party should concede the group, Steele said, adding McCain has a unique story to tell black voters and can “show his heart,” specifically citing the family’s adoption of daughter Bridget, who was born in Bangladesh with a cleft palate.