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The GOP: Still trying to be a lily-white party?

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted September 30, 2002

Ron Greer is one of the most interesting and colorful candidates to run for Congress this year. He is running as a black Republican in Wisconsin's Second District, which is newly configured since the state lost a seat in re-districting. His opponent is Tammy Baldwin (D), the only avowed lesbian in the House of Representatives. She was first elected in 1998 when tens of thousands of University of Wisconsin students flooded Dane County (Madison) polling places. Not only was Ms. Baldwin elected but the margin of new liberal voters helped to topple Mark Neumann (R), the First District Congressman who was running against freshman Senator Russ Feingold (D), who had defeated two term Senator Bob Kasten (R) six years earlier. Neumann ran well elsewhere in the state. The Democratic margin in Milwaukee was less than expected. Neumann said he just could not overcome the estimated 50,000 new voters who showed up on Election Day, unregistered, to help Tammy Baldwin. He lost the race by less than 38,000 votes.

Meanwhile, Ms. Baldwin's margin declined in 2000. If history is any guide, a legislator with decreasing margins is a good target for defeat. Moreover, the new district puts some Republican parts of the old First District in the second district. Rock County, which has always produced winning margins for Republican candidates, has been split in half. Ms. Baldwin got Beloit and the heavily Republican Green County. In addition, some of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner's district was also attached to the second district.


Sensenbrenner (R) is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and his district was very overpopulated. It is the most heavily Republican district in the state. The point of all of this is that Ron Greer is running in a brand new district, one that is much more favorable to his message than the old district had been. And in the old district, Ms. Baldwin only received 51 percent of the vote in the 2000 election.

Greer's occupation, prior to his resigning and running for Congress, was that of firefighter. That is one of the few jobs these days that the public views favorably. You would think that the Republican Party would be excited about this opportunity. Long-time political operatives who have met Greer have pronounced him to be an exciting candidate with a winning personality.

The problem for Greer is that he is broke. He used all of his resources to win a multi-candidate primary with 61 percent of the vote. Instead of the GOP rushing to provide him with the maximum allocation of money allowed under the law, Greer's party has told everyone who will listen that he has no chance.

Just why would that be? He is working and getting support from the black churches, something no other GOP candidate has been able to do. The district is far more hospitable to his views than was the old district. Social conservatives, who had not been able to support the past several candidates because of their pro-abortion stance, have signed on to Greer's campaign with great enthusiasm. He has an impressive precinct organization which previous candidates lacked.

This is no endorsement of either candidate. But the situation cries out for answers. If a white candidate had won the primary, would the party still be saying he or she had no chance? Is it because Greer comes from the wrong side of the tracks that the GOP's country club set have nixed him? When J.C. Watts won the GOP nomination for Congress in Oklahoma in 1994 some Republicans didn't really want a black representing them. Hence, his first race was close. Subsequently he won over the district to the point that the Democrats didn't even bother to run a credible candidate against him. When Alan Keyes, the former UN Ambassador, ran twice for the Senate in Maryland, he charged that the Maryland Republicans were racist because they really didn't support a black candidate. When he first said that, I just dismissed it as sour grapes. But looking at the Watts experience, and now seeing what is being done to Greer, maybe Keyes had a point.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • Courting minorities A GOP challenge by W. James Antle III (July 8, 2002)
    The Republicans have always done poorly attracting minorities to its fold and it looks like it's getting worse. Despite that, W. James Antle III argues, minority outreach is still very worthwhile

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