Republicans and Minority Voters

Recent remarks by Republican senators may hurt the party with minority voters, according to an AP story.

One Republican senator described his house painter as a “little Guatemalan man.” Another called an Indian man a “macaca,” a type of monkey.

Just as the GOP is pushing for minority voters, the two recent gaffes have fed the perception among some blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans that Republicans are out of touch with the changing face of the nation. “There is disconnect at some level,” said Michael K. Fauntroy, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. “The country is becoming browner and new voters, particularly new immigrant voters, don’t respond favorably to (offensive) comments. “They may have already missed the boat on this.”

Reports surfaced last week that Sen. Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, called his house painter a “nice little Guatemalan man” during a June speech. Burns, whose re-election campaign is pressing for tighter immigration controls, also suggested that the man might be an illegal immigrant. It turns out the worker is legal.

Earlier this month, George Allen, a Republican senator from Virginia, twice referred to an opponent’s volunteer using a term for a monkey, considered by some to be a racial slur. “Let’s give a welcome to Macaca here,” Allen said. “Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” Allen has since apologized to S.R. Sidarth, who was born in Virginia and is of Indian descent.

Republicans hardly have a lock on offending minorities. Former Democratic congressman and civil rights leader Andrew Young, who is black, said this month that Asian, Jewish and Arab shopkeepers in black neighborhoods sold shoddy goods to blacks and drove away their businesses. And, amid protests, the Democratic party this month pulled an advertisement from its Web site that compared Hispanic immigrants to terrorists. But the comments by Burns and Allen have garnered heavy attention as their party is trying to improve its showing among minorities. Neither senator returned phone calls seeking comment.

That’s to say nothing of recent comments by Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, both considered among the leading contenders for the 2008 presidential nomination. Yet, those comments got a fraction of the media play that Allen’s and Burns’ got.

Certainly, part of this is that there is a longstanding perception that Republicans are the party of rich white people and the Democrats are the champions of minorities and the downtrodden. So, racially insensitive remarks (or even those that could be portrayed that way, as in the case of the “macaca” incident) by Republicans fit a pre-existing schema whereas those by Democrats are considered aberrant. Partly, too, reporters seem to like Clinton and, especially, Biden a lot more than they do Burns and, especially, Allen. They’re likely to view racially insensitive jokes by the former as just poor attempts at humor whereas the latter are clear evidence of deep seated racism.

Interestingly, despite the headline (“Republicans’ comments may hurt at polls”) and the long lead-in, there’s no evidence in the piece that there’s much fallout for the Burns and Allen comments beyond their own races. Several paragraphs into the story, we get this:

Said Frances Rice, chairman of the National Black Republican Association: “I think Republicans have an excellent chance of winning over a good percentage of minority voters.”

Some say that’s already happening. In 2004, 46 percent of Hispanic men, for instance, backed Bush compared to 36 percent in 2000, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. While only 11 percent of blacks voted for Bush in 2004, it still was up from 2000. But there’s a long way to go. Associated Press-Ipsos polls from June to August show that 81 percent of blacks, 62 percent of Hispanics and 69 percent of Asian-Americans identify with Democrats over Republicans and independents.

While those numbers are horrid, they’re actually pretty good by historical standards, since Democrats typically get 90-odd percent of the black vote.

FILED UNDER: 2006 Election, Congress, Race and Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. lily says:

    If you judge Republican politicians by their policies there really isn’t any doubt about it–they are the party of, by, and for the rich. The rhetoric is usually some mix of populist hate/fearmongering combined with claims of superior patriotism or morality, but the laws passed and policies pursued show an unambiguous pattern. And that’s been the case for nearly one hundred years.

  2. James Joyner says:

    It’s interesting, then, that they manage to win the presidency so often. A majority of the country must be rich!

  3. legion says:

    No, just people who’ve been taught over the last couple of generation that the only worthwhile goal in life is to become rich. Sigh.

  4. andrew says:

    This just shows how the Democrats still have an enormous advantage since the entire MSM is on their side. A Democratic politician could machine gun a bunch of people to death in full view of hundreds of people and would not receive the negative coverage that Republicans receive for manufactured scandals. If Republicans received one tenth the favorable coverage that someone like Arafat got the Democrats wouldn’t even be able to sustain 40% of the vote.

  5. jpe says:

    Yet, those comments got a fraction of the media play that Allen’s and Burns’ got.

    Clinton’s comment just wasn’t racist. It’s not racist to mention race, although that’s what the right seems to think. And it’s weirdass ideas like that that let everyone know how out of touch with minorities the right is.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Uh, saying of Mahatma Ghandi “He ran a gas station down in St. Louis” isn’t racist? Of course it is.

    It’s a fairly banal observation that a lot of people of Indian descent seem to run convenience stores, to be sure, but it is certainly racial.

  7. joe says:

    Good God James! You really believe the press likes Hillary and that Allen’s remarks could be construed as racially insensitive?

    I enjoy you because you’re typically a more independent conservative thinker. The press likes the Hillary storyline and Allen is a warning to pols everywhere that even in the smallest audiences what you say may end up on TV (of course what was he thinking talking directly to a camer?).

    What were the offensive Clinton remarks? I missed them.

  8. James Joyner says:


    Hillary’s remarks are in the comment above yours.

    Allen was using Sidarth, his opponent’s cameraman, to make fun of Webb for being an inside-the-Beltway guy. “Macaca” is a word without meaning, other than being funny sounding, in Virginia. Whether Allen was using a racial epithet that he’d heard elsewhere as an inside joke, whether it was a subconscious thing, or a total coincidence (I lean toward the second) is unknown and likely unknowable.