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GOP Intensifies Its Effort to Appeal to Black Voters

October 27, 1986|BOB DROGIN | Times Staff Writer

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. — William P. Lucas looked out at the 150 men and women breakfasting on scrambled eggs and campaign politics in this affluent Detroit suburb, and proclaimed the obvious.

"Here I am a Republican and a black and running for governor," the 58-year-old Wayne County executive and former FBI agent said. "I represent a whole new equation."

The GOP is counting on a record number of similar equations this November. At least 86 black Republicans are running in local and state elections around the country. The group is the largest in the party's history, and includes eight congressional candidates, twice as many as in 1982.

But, party officials say, the black Republicans are merely the most visible part of a growing GOP effort to woo some of America's 12.2 million black voters back to the party of Abraham Lincoln. An increasing number of white Republican candidates are courting black leaders and campaigning in black neighborhoods, trying to chip away at black Democratic support in such states as South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia and New York.

"I think it's a new day," said Larry Dillard, who is working with Lucas' campaign as black political liaison for the Republican National Committee. "It's not just the Republican Party sending out a message. It's that blacks are starting to listen to that message."

How blacks are responding is another question. After President Reagan showed up on Sept. 24 to campaign for Lucas at Detroit's Cobo Hall arena, one poll found 39% of voters less likely to vote for Lucas than before. A Detroit News poll published Thursday showed Lucas losing a majority of the black vote and trailing more than 2 to 1 to Michigan's popular Democratic incumbent, James J. Blanchard.

"Their loyalty continues unabated," Lucas, a former Democrat himself, said of black voters in an interview. "They treat the Democratic Party as a religion. And making changes is very difficult for them."

Democratic officials and black leaders agree. Although they acknowledge fractious party disputes over alleged snubs of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the black civil rights leader who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984, they foresee no shift of black support away from Democrats in the near future despite increased GOP competition.

"I think it's wishful thinking by Republicans," said Althea T. L. Simmons, Washington director and chief lobbyist for the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. "Sure, there's disaffection. But it's like a family. You don't get up and pull up stakes."

No Party Realignment

Subtle shifts may be under way, however. A national Gallup survey of 868 blacks and 916 whites conducted for the Joint Center for Political Studies, a Washington-based black-oriented think tank, found "virtually no evidence of party realignment among blacks," but a weakening in party loyalty among black Democrats, according to Linda F. Williams, senior political analyst at the center.

The poll found only 6.5% of blacks identifying themselves as Republicans, contrasted with 78% who called themselves Democrats. But the poll found "softening" of Democratic support, because 49% of blacks identified themselves as "strong Democrats," down from 55% in 1984.

"While blacks are still voting Democratic, this is the clearest evidence we have that the Democratic Party might indeed be losing its grip on the core of its black support," said Eddie N. Williams, president of the center, at an Oct. 14 press conference announcing the poll.

Young black voters, like young white voters, appear more receptive to Republican appeals than their elders, said David Garth, a New York political consultant. "There is also a growing black middle class that may not be Republican, but may be more conservative than the traditional black vote," he said.

Reagan Widely Criticized

Many expect black support for the 1988 Republican presidential nominee to increase. President Reagan drew only about 10% of black votes in the 1984 election, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls, and he is widely criticized by blacks for his record on civil rights and affirmative action, his sharp cuts in social programs, his appointments of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Daniel A. Manion, and his opposition to economic sanctions for South Africa.

"I don't think the black vote against the Republicans will ever be as great as it was against Reagan," said Roger Wilkins, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank in Washington, "because he was seen as so against black interests."

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