Elbert Guillory, a black Republican state legislator from Louisiana, has taken his show on the road.
Guillory came to fame through a recent video attacking incumbent U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat locked in a tight re-election race. Walking in a sharp three-piece suit through an impoverished area near where he grew up, Guillory said that Landrieu has failed to actually help the black community that has consistently supported her for the eighteen years she has held office. His commentary is withering: “You’re not Mary’s cause—and you’re certainly not her charity. You are just a vote. Nothing less and nothing more. For her, you are just a means to an end so that she remains in power.”
Guillory, whose FreeAtLast PAC has managed to raise a few hundred thousand dollars since the video hit YouTube, has now brought his message to black voters in Arkansas, North Carolina, and Georgia. Versions of the ad appeared during statewide broadcasts of the New Orleans Saints-Carolina Panthers game Thursday night, the Florida-Georgia game Saturday, and the Arkansas-Mississippi State game Saturday night.
For a long time, the conventional Republican wisdom when it came to the black community was remarkably defeatist. Jack Kemp, the GOP’s 1996 vice presidential candidate, made a good faith effort to earn black voters with a message of empowerment, by touting things like tax rebates to create investment and jobs in inner cities. But it more or less failed to move the needle. And since the arrival of Barack Obama on the political scene, Democrats have claimed no less than 95 percent of the black vote, which constitutes a growing portion of the electorate.
Guillory takes a markedly different approach. He isn’t touchy-feely, and he makes no promises to the black community of a better life under a Republican Senate. All he does is challenge—devastatingly—the Democrats’ unfulfilled promises of prosperity based on Uncle Sam, a message that harkens all the way back to Malcolm X’s “political chump” speech from 1965.
The Louisiana race offers Guillory a chance to show that in-your-face facts will help the GOP connect better than soft talk about Enterprise Zones and tax credits to keep families together.
To understand the state of play, you need to understand one thing: incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu needs black voters to come out in force if she has any hope of winning re-election.
That’s why she went out on a limb last week by saying that racism explains President Obama’s unpopularity in Louisiana—and her re-election struggles. Challenged on the statement, originally made to NBC News’s Chuck Todd, Landrieu has doubled and tripled down.
The numbers work like this: Polls show Landrieu struggling to claim more than 25 percent of whites (and her statement about the South being full of racists isn’t likely to improve the picture). Thus, she needs to drive her most reliable supporters—black voters—to the polls, and increase their share of the electorate to above 30 percent, up from a typical figure for a midterm election of 27 or 28 percent.
Some evidence suggests that Landrieu is having success in that regard. Consider the massive get-out-the-vote effort in the black community during the early voting period from October 21 to 28. Democrats represent less than 47 percent of the state’s registered voters, but more than 52 percent of those who had voted early. Blacks represent 31.5 percent of the electorate, but 32.8 percent of those who had already cast ballots.
But many observers expect the race will finish in a run-off election between Landrieu and Republican Bill Cassidy on December 6. If so, it will give Guillory’s ads, which have just hit the airwaves, five more weeks to make a splash. If Cassidy can improve on the GOP’s numbers among black voters between today and December, Guillory might be able to claim credit.
The problem—Guillory’s challenge, the GOP’s challenge—is to continue to build a dissident force in the black community beyond this year’s elections. Democrats needed generations to build a monolithic bloc vote out of African-Americans. Guillory, and other black conservatives, will have to stay in the fight for at least as long.
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