Tony Dejak / AP Enlarge
COLUMBUS - Republican Sen. John McCain can't win the black vote in this year's presidential election, but he can make inroads by laying out an honest vision of his presidency, a prominent black conservative argues.
Ken Blackwell, Ohio's former treasurer and secretary of state, said Mr. McCain's strength lies in an adherence to an authentic message without worrying about vote counting.
"He should leave the numbers to the mathematicians and the strategists," Mr. Blackwell said yesterday. "They should let McCain be McCain."
It's the same argument Mr. Blackwell, now a conservative columnist and commentator, laid out in an article timed to preview Mr. McCain's speech yesterday to the NAACP's national meeting in Cincinnati.
Democrat Barack Obama, who would be the country's first black president if elected in November, addressed the same group Monday.
"Although Mr. McCain cannot win the African-American vote in this election, he can get a respectable percentage," Mr. Blackwell wrote in the New York Sun.
"He first will receive points for showing up, and if he makes the case that his agenda is what will best address African-Americans' concerns and safeguard the nation, he can close the deal with some," he wrote in his column.
Mr. Blackwell argues that Mr. McCain has to make the case that his positions, from energy to education to national security, would benefit blacks.
It may be the best argument a white Republican can hope for: GOP candidates traditionally win no more than 1 in 10 black votes. And those were when the Democratic candidate was not black, a fact that makes Mr. McCain's task even more difficult.
Four years ago, when President Bush won a relatively high 16 percent of black votes in Ohio, the blip was attributed to heavy turnout among conservatives, including black conservatives, for an anti-gay marriage amendment.
In his NAACP speech, Mr. McCain argued for more school vouchers and charter schools, programs he said are beneficial to black children trapped in failing schools. Both are mainstays of Republicans' education platforms. Democrats, prodded by public school teachers' unions, usually oppose the concept.
"I am a candidate for president who seeks your vote and hopes to earn it," Mr. McCain said in his speech. "But whether or not I win your support, I need your good will and counsel. And should I succeed, I'll need it all the more."
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory said he didn't see much new in Mr. McCain's speech or Mr. Blackwell's column. "Isn't that what politicians always say?" said Mr. Mallory, a Democrat who is black. "•'I'm willing to listen to you now even though I don't agree with you, and if I win, I'll still listen to you?' I'm not sure what the commitment is there."
Mr. McCain has appointed Joe Deters, Ohio's former treasurer, as a regional campaign chairman in Ohio's southwestern area. Democrats think there's political hay to be made with the pick. Two former aides pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in 2004.
Mr. Deters resigned midterm after voters in 2004 elected him to his former job as Hamilton County prosecutor.