If the GOP is the party of old white guys, it is becoming less so.
Consider North Carolina’s face in national GOP party circles. Two of the three state’s members of the Republican National Committee are now African-Americans.
The surprise election of Hasan Harnett as the state Republican Party chairman earlier this month at the state convention means he will join Ada Fisher, a Salisbury physician, as a member of the RNC. Both Harnett and Fisher are black.
The third member of the RNC is state Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, who is white.
This is likely the first time that any state GOP has had a black majority representing it at the national level – at least since Reconstruction.
The RNC has 150 members, and is composed of the state party chair and a committeeman and a committee woman from each state. There are currently five black members of the RNC – two from North Carolina, one from Utah, one from Texas and one from South Carolina.
What is interesting is that both Harnett and Fisher were elected – not appointed – to their national posts by delegates to the state GOP convention. The convention is mainly attended by party activists, who tend to be among the most conservative members of the party.
Harnett, 39, an entrepreneur and motivational speaker, defeated Craig Collins, a Gastonia lawyer, who had the backing of Gov. Pat McCrory, senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, and the leaders of both houses of the legislature.
Harnett’s victory is yet another sign that McCrory has not done his political homework, keeping good ties with the networks of precinct workers, county officials and donors who helped put him into office in 2012.
Harnett’s core support came from the most conservative segment of the party, including tea party members and libertarians. Harnett was the grassroots conservative alternative and his election was considered an upset.
GOP conservatives have a track record of supporting like-minded black candidates. Ben Carson, the African-American neurosurgeon seeking the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, has strong support among conservatives, particularly evangelicals. He packed a prayer breakfast at the state GOP convention last month.
The first black person elected to the U.S. Senate from the South since Reconstruction is Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina, a tea party favorite. He is one of only two African-Americans currently in the Senate. The other is Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Through the 1930s, most black voters identified with the party of Abraham Lincoln. But that began to change during the New Deal and particularly gained momentum when Democrats began championing civil rights legislation and Republicans began courting disaffected conservative Democrats with their “Southern Strategy.”
The Republican Party has in recent decades had difficulty making inroads among black voters. But the GOP chairman, Reince Priebus, has been pushing a Strategic Initiatives Program that, among other things, hopes to broaden the Republican Party by attracting more blacks, Hispanics and women.
Its message is that the GOP is the party of jobs and growth. The GOP thinks its message on education, including school choice, will appeal to many African-American parents.
The GOP has room for growth. There are today no black Republicans in the state legislature, the congressional delegation or holding a statewide office, though Thomas Stith, McCrory’s chief of staff and a veteran of conservative advocacy organizations, is an African-American.
With Republican politicians across the South lowering the profile of the Confederate battle flag – from flying over capitol grounds or appearing on license plates – this could be a window for more engagement between the Republican Party and the black community.
More competition could potentially work to everybody’s benefit – the GOP, the black community, and even the Democratic Party.