Mitt Romney isn’t the most popular guy in black America. Polls conducted throughout this campaign season have told us that his support amongst African-Americans is at 0 percent. Plus, he’s been fighting the campaign in the suburbs of places like Ohio, Florida and Colorado. Not exactly the inner cities.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean he has no black supporters. There’s a large contingent of black Republicans in Philadelphia, which includes about 15 ward leaders and registration estimates in the thousands. And while few of us were paying attention, many of them formed a small coalition called the Philadelphia Republicans of Color. Their emblem has a picture of Abraham Lincoln’s face over a map of Philadelphia. They sell Philly ROC mugs and T-shirts! And before you stop reading, know this: They’re not crazy.
Take Lewis Harris. The 62-year-old leader of the 29th Ward has joined a chorus of local black Republicans who’ve set aside the proto typical right-wing attacks and have gone out of their way to make a point about policy in the 2012 debate—mostly, why the African-American community needs to be involved when the Republican Party’s priorities are written.
Harris is the former CEO of the Wharton Center in North Philadelphia, which houses several affiliated nonprofit agencies, and last made headlines when he opened a North Philly office for Sam Katz’s 2003 mayoral run in the same building. Over the last decade, he has run for numerous offices as a Republican, Democrat, Independent and Green. A Republican now, he and says he doesn’t hate President Obama—quite the opposite—but it’s Romney who’s the natural progression from where we are as a nation.
“I think Obama was beautiful for blacks,” says Harris, who was elected to be a 2012 Republican delegate for the 2nd Congressional District this summer. “I love him. I love his family, the way he carries himself. Everything about him is great.”
OK, not everything. Harris thinks Obama isn’t business-minded. And that’s what he says we need over the next four years.
Which is why Romney has come around at the perfect time to speed up the country’s economic reconstruction, Harris says. “Now, I think, at this point, we need someone unemotional, with a business background, who can give us a business plan. [Romney] doesn’t even have to listen to advisers because he already knows how to run a business [and] he’s been very, very successful at it.”
Romney has also had success in the polls this election while ignoring the black community—something Harris more or less understands. “I haven’t seen a lot of inroads by [the Romney] campaign into the black wards. And it may be logical to assume that they’re concerned that even if they supported some of the black wards, those people may not vote for Mitt. It might be money for a lost cause … I think it’s a political move to save money and not look like a fool to pay people to vote against you.”
Harris also says he’s along for the ride not necessarily because he believes in everything the Republican Party does (he doesn’t), but because if the black community wants the power he believes it deserves, it has to get involved in conversations from both sides.
One candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives has been attempting to do this since returning home from several tours in Iraq in 2010. North Philly Republican Robert Allen Mansfield is a Tea Party supporter of small government, with strings attached. In a previous profile in PW, Mansfield calls himself a “hip-hop Republican” who understands a social safety net is needed and became disenfranchised with Democrats and switched his party to Republican due to what he often sees as the handout culture in black communities, fueled by the left.
But Mansfield, too, is careful to not hit the president on many of the issues Republicans and anonymous message-boarding conservatives have over the past four years. “I’m not going to disrespect the president,” he says of his campaign’s desire to stay on the issue of the 2nd District. “His healthcare bill is the new health-care law. I’m not going to call it Obamacare.”
Many on the right have intentionally called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “Obamacare” to make Americans believe the law is a government takeover of the healthcare system. Both Harris and Mansfield believe it’s phrases like those and others—like Michelle Obama’s nickname of “Moo-Shell” in conservative pits of the Internet—that make blacks so afraid of crossing over to the Republican party.
“We have to stop all kinds of nonsense,” Harris notes. “But you cannot do it from the outside. You have to go in.”