Is Kilgore effort to woo black voters for real?

Story by Chris Graham

Republican Party gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore has made headlines because he has made it known that he is serious about courting African-American voters.

But is the Kilgore campaign’s voter-outreach effort sincere?

“At some level, it is sincere,” said Michael Fauntroy, a George Mason University political-science professor whose current research focuses on Republican Party efforts to attract black voters.

“But at the same time, it’s also about responding to the demographic nature of what is facing the Republican Party going forward,” Fauntroy told The Augusta Free Press.

“With the increasing immigrant population, the Republican Party has to find more votes in minority groups or else. So I think they are sincere, but I think they are sincere less about their newfound love for black people as much as it is about dealing with the demographic realities around the country,” Fauntroy said.

 

Tiffany Watkins, the deputy policy director for the Kilgore campaign, backed Fauntroy up on one point there.

“From a national perspective, this has always been the foundation, just to make sure that we are consistent with the changing demographics of the society,” said Watkins, who

 

served as the national director of African-Americans for Bush in 2004.

But Kilgore’s efforts to reach out to African-Americans in Virginia are about more than scoring a few more votes in traditionally black precincts.

“Jerry is very much in tune with all the dynamics of Virginia and what needs to be done so that all Virginians can feel that their input is taken well, and that they feel that Jerry is responding to those needs,” Watkins told the AFP.

Delacey Skinner, a spokesman for Kilgore’s Democratic Party rival, Tim Kaine, said it is more to the point that African-American voters in Virginia recognize that Kilgore, despite his attempts to clean up his record on diversity issues in the press, “h

 

as run a campaign that has been very divisive.”

“He took a stand against diversity programs at colleges in Virginia when he was attorney general. He fought against provisions like the Americans with Disabilities Act that is designed to make sure that all Virginians and all Americans, regardless of their ability, are not discriminated against. He does not have a good record on these issues,” Skinner told the AFP.

“Voters can see what his record has been. I think that what people really look at when they’re making a decision about who they’re going to vote for for governor is not just what you say, but what you’ve done,” Skinner said.

Fauntroy said he views outreach efforts like Kilgore’s as being “less about

actually reaching out to black voters as they are in trying to comfort moderate white voters who would be uncomfortable voting for a party that actively turned its back on minorities in particular.””This is as much about what’s going on in suburban Richmond and Fairfax County and places like that as it is about what’s going on in Richmond or in Petersburg, for example, or in downtown Norfolk,” Fauntroy said.

“The party has yet to put forth a plan to deal with some of the acute and unique issues facing black Americans. What they have decided to do, instead of trying attach it from a policy perspective, they’ve decided to try to deal with it more along the lines of religion, and their position is that if they can peel off enough of these black religious conservatives, then they don’t need to do anything else on affirmative action, incarceration, disparate health care, and so on,” Fauntroy said.

Watkins counters that the Kilgore campaign is “seeing a lot of success” in reaching out to black voters across the spectrum with Kilgore’s core-conservative message.

“I think Jerry’s message of lower taxes and his education plan, better pay for better teachers, and his record as attorney general on domestic violence and crime, is really resonating with the community,” Watkins said.

“We are seeing a lot of folks reaching out to us, and we’re reaching back,” Watkins said.

 



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