By ROGER J. STONE JR. The Republican Party strategy of increasing its percentage of the African-American vote in typical Democratic states - nominating attractive African-American candidates for statewide office - crashed this month when Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell lost his bid for governor of Ohio, football great Lynn Swann was defeated for governor of Pennsylvania and Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele lost a bid for the U.S. Senate in Maryland. Party leaders need to recognize that the best way to attract black voters is to appeal to them on the basis of shared values and not on the basis of race. Take, for example, the successful candidacy of Attorney General Charlie Crist, who held the governorship of Florida for the Republican Party in an otherwise glum year for the GOP. Crist made his strong stance on civil rights a centerpiece of his campaign, telling the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel the day after the Republican primary, "This is the first day of this campaign and there are differences. I think I've been a leader in civil rights, and I think that's important as we move forward." Crist also told The Tampa Tribune, "It's important for me as a Republican to set the tone for my party as a party of inclusion." Crist highlighted his support for fair restitution to Wilbert Lee and Freddie Pitts, two African-American men falsely convicted of a double murder in the Southern judicial system of the 1960s. Crist highlighted his vote for restitution in the state Senate. Crist also reopened the investigation into a 55-year-old case involving the bombing deaths of martyred civil rights pioneer Harry T. Moore and his wife in Brevard County in the 1950s. Crist also sued a motel owner in Taylor County who refused to let black guests use the swimming pool. Just as importantly, the Crist campaign utilized African-American and urban radio - not staples in Republican campaigns - to aggressively communicate the attorney general's civil rights record. A review of the 400 top African-American precincts in Florida shows that Crist won 18 percent of the African-American vote, more than twice the 8 percent garnered by Gov. Jeb Bush four years earlier. Crist's opponent won significant margins in black precincts only in his home county or that of his African-American running mate. In a race where Crist was fighting a Republican downdraft that was making his underfunded Democratic opponent Jim Davis competitive, Crist's inroads into the African-American vote are significant. Republicans who want to come to grips with the new ethnic mix of the American electorate must realize the need to increase support in both the Hispanic and African-American communities to be competitive in any large state. The black middle class, which shares the same concerns of all middle-class voters - job opportunities, safe streets, education and the affordability of college - is a natural target for the party of Lincoln, but only when coupled with a deep and provable commitment to justice and equality. Florida's new governor is showing the way.
Roger J. Stone Jr. is a veteran of eight national Republican presidential campaigns and a resident of Miami Beach.