In an effort to showcase African Americans in the Republican Party and attempt to appeal to Black voters, the GOP trotted out a lineup of African American speakers at the Republican National Convention, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and a candidate for the House of Representatives; and Artur Davis, the newly converted Republican who has drawn the ire of many Blacks on Capitol Hill.
The Black speakers took to the podium as news circulated that a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has miniscule support among Black voters. That might prove troubling to him if Black voters come out en masse on Election Day. Despite having a smattering of Blacks in his corner, the poll results indicate that Romney has failed to make any significant connection with Black voters.
Love, who has aspirations to become the first Black Republican woman in Congress rallied the crowd early on opening night. “Mr. President, I’m here to tell you the American people are awake and we’re not buying what you are selling in 2012,” she said as the audience applauded.
A Brooklyn-born first generation Haitian American who, like Romney, is a Mormon, she referred to her cultural heritage, saying her parents came to America with only $10 because they believed in the American Dream. “The American Dream isn’t just my story. It isn’t just your story. It’s our story,” Love said.
Davis, the former Alabama Democratic congressman-turned- Republican and a key African -American speaker during prime time of the Republican National Convention Aug. 28, was condemned by the Congressional Black Caucus for “his complete flip flop on certain core principles.” His new support of voter ID laws that tend to hurt minority voters at the polls was called “unconscionable.”
The rift between Davis, a former supporter of President Obama, and the CBC comes on the heels of a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that showed Obama’s lead over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney among Black voters is 94 percent to zero percent.
It was Davis, the president’s former Alabama campaign chairman and the person who seconded Obama’s nomination at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, who drew the most criticism for his unexpected role on the GOP’s national stage. Davis lost a bid for governor in Alabama in 2010 and switched to the Republican Party earlier this year.
On the day of Davis’ speech, some members of the Congressional Black Caucus released a strongly worded letter accusing the former four-term congressman of switching parties only to further his personal political ambitions. Davis reportedly is considering a bid for a congressional seat in Virginia, where he now resides.
“Given the magnitude of your recent transformation, we can only conclude that, rather than a true conversion, your actions are the result of a nakedly personal and political calculation or simmering anguish after failing to secure the Democratic nomination for governor of the State of Alabama in 2010,” the letter signed by 14 members of the CBC said.
The CBC members took particular issue with Davis’ stance that voter ID laws do not violate civil rights or suppress minority voter turnout. As an example, the letter cited that in 2007, Davis had joined then-Senator Obama in calling for the resignation of the Justice Department’s voting rights chief after he claimed that voter ID laws did not hurt minorities. At the time Davis said, “You can’t argue voter ID laws don’t disfranchise African-Americans.”
The CBC members also said that Davis had supported the president’s agenda 95 percent of the time, including the Wall Street reform bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. While he did not vote in favor of the total health care reform package, Davis did support expanding Medicaid and giving tax breaks to small businesses that provide health care. The letter said Davis had “hailed President Barack Obama as a ‘beacon of leadership.’”
Davis did not respond publicly to the CBC’s letter, but Politico reported that he said in an email that he and other Black Republicans should not be demonized.
“I appreciate that there is sensitivity in the African American community to criticisms of the president and understand why: he is a good man who shattered a signal racial barrier, and the entire community should share that pride,” Davis wrote. “But pride in President Obama should never turn into intolerance for opposing viewpoints or into the demonization of Black Americans like Condi Rice and myself who will be supporting Mitt Romney. Intolerance is ugly in any form, and the 26 CBC members who didn’t sign perhaps recognized that.”
Hurricane Isaac raged along the Gulf Coast as debate over Davis’ new position grew increasingly heated. Reports on the weather, which delayed the convention for a day and left Tampa drenched, often preempted speakers who took to the podium. As controversy stirred around him, Davis used his time on the national and international stage to address “Democrats whose minds are not made up.” The NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll showed that Obama and Romney were even when it came to swing groups of voters, including independents.
“America is the land of second chances,” Davis told the audience. “And I gather in this close race you have room for the estimated 6 million of us who got it wrong in 2008 and who want to fix it. Maybe we should have known that night in Denver that things that began with styrofoam, Greek columns and artificial smoke typically don’t end well. Maybe the Hollywood stars and the glamour blinded us a little. Maybe you were blinded by what some of us thought was a halo.”
Davis’ speech was tough rhetoric for a politician who had previously described President Obama as a friend.
“What a difference four years makes,” he said, adding that Obama’s used “flowery words” to lead Americans to believe that the country could be “more inclusive than we had ever been and no candidate had ever spoken so beautifully.”
He concluded: “2008 through 2011, lesson learned. 2012: mistake corrected. Let’s take this country back.”
Following Davis’ speech, CNN political analyst Roland Martin accused Davis of “political fraud,’ saying that the former Alabama congressman had never campaigned as a conservative.
In response to that criticism, after his speech, Davis said, “I wish I had been more outspoken. I should have been.”