Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman went to Harrisburg, Pa., last week to raise money for a city councilman's re-election campaign -- an event he believes could help change the face of American politics for years to come.
Mr. Mehlman's trip to the Pennsylvania state capital was largely overlooked by the news media, but not by savvy Democratic strategists, who saw the trip as having the potential seeds of their party's decline.
The occasion for the trip was the decision of Otto Banks, the most popular politician in Harrisburg, to switch from the Democrat to the Republican Parties.
A bit of background. Harrisburg is dominated politically by black Democrats. All the members of the City Council are black and all are Democrats, that is, until Banks declared his disenchantment with the party and switched. What is more, Banks' decision to switch was endorsed by two of his colleagues on the Harrisburg Council, and the fundraiser held for him attracted many prominent black clergy and businessmen.
"There's been a huge ripple" in the Democratic Party as a result of his
switch, Mr. Banks told me. The reaction has been particularly favorable within
his community. "More and more people of color are starting to take a second look
at the Republican Party."
Mr. Banks, who now calls himself a "progressive Republican," voted for
John Kerry in 2004, but after the campaign "took some time off and really
started to do some soul-searching. I realized that many of the ownership and
economic opportunity issues I stood behind were actually part of the president's
He is, for example, for school choice programs. He likes the idea of
workers investing some payroll contributions and building a nest egg they can
own and leave to their families.
Most troubling, he said, is how Democrats have treated their party's
most loyal constituency. "The Democrats have definitely taken their
African-American base for granted," he said. "We have lost our influence in the
Democratic Party and by losing that, we have lost our ability to influence
policies in our community."
Lambro sees a political realignment taking place. I wouldn't go that far. It is unlikely that many blacks will become loyal Republicans. But, in Harrisburg, and increasingly around the state, blacks are beginning to realize that their long-term interests are served by being able to play Democrats and Republicans off against each other. Both parties are going to have to compete for black votes, and that [to quote a famous, but fashionable, criminal] is a "good thing."
Read the whole article here.