One of the best things about presidential election season is just how bold candidates get before the first ballot has even been cast. Gary Hart daring the press to follow him, Howard Dean swearing he was going to take back Washington, and Mitt Romney telling the president to "Start packing" just months before Obama trounced him on election day. There's a lot of claim staking trash talking and game spitting heading up to a presidential election, and now Rand Paul has gotten into the act. Rand Paul, who fashions himself as a new wave African American friendly Republican has lifted his bat and pointed to the right field of 2016 with his recent interview in Politico released last Friday:
"If Republicans have a clue and do this and go out and ask every African-American for their vote, I think we can transform an election in one cycle," Paul said.
Paul acknowledges that there will be plenty of black voters not willing to embrace a Republican at the national level, but that doesn't stop him from making his claim.
Paul: "But I think there is fully a third of the African-American vote that is open to much of the message, because much of what the Democrats has offered hasn't worked."
Now before the liberal left and cynical political observers fall off their chairs laughing consider this isn't just wishful thinking from Rand Paul. There is some historical and polling data to back up his "One Third of the Black Vote" argument, and if there's anybody in the 2016 Republican field with even a puncher's chance of pulling this off, it's Rand Paul.
This "One Third of the Black Vote" claim isn't new. Herman Cain was making the same pitch back in 2011 essentially using the "Your Momma and your cousin too" polling method common amongst your less sophisticated candidates:
"The African American vote, I am confident, based upon black people that I run into, black people that used to call my radio show, black people that have signed up on my website to support me [sic]. I believe, quite frankly, that my campaign, I will garner a minimum of a third of the black vote in this country and possibly more [sic]."
However, Rand Paul isn't a fake presidential candidate running in order to bolster his speaking fees and radio show. When he was elected to the Senate from Kentucky in 2010 a week before the election he was polling almost 25 percent of the black vote in Kentucky. He eventually earned 13 percent of the black vote on election day; which puts him ahead of other 2016 contenders like Ted Cruz and Scott Walker. But unlike other 2016 Republican hopefuls Rand Paul has made legitimate pitches to African American community like speaking at Howard University, going to Ferguson to speak with African American leaders and teaming up with "Barack Obama 2.0" Corey Booker for legislation on prison and sentencing reform.
Obviously Paul didn't get his "One Third of the Black Vote" statistic from Herman Cain, but there are numbers to back it up -- sort of. Paul's boast is likely based on an oft repeated bit of statistical gymnastics promoted by the Republican Party since the mid-1990s. The story goes like this: among African American voters, about 30 percent consider themselves to be liberal, 50 percent consider themselves to be moderate and 20 percent consider themselves to be conservative. If a Republican presidential candidate could pull in a maybe 40 percent of the of the African American voters who consider themselves to be moderates and conservatives, the back-of-envelope-math says you get roughly 30-33 percent of the African American vote.
There is some precedent for this, according to Pew Research Latinos are split almost evenly across the ideological spectrum (33 percent Conservative, 32 percent Moderate, 31 percent Liberal). George W. Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 carrying a decent group of moderate and conservative Latino voters across the country despite the preponderance of them identifying as Democrats. Of course, no Republican presidential candidate has carried more than 18 percent of the African American vote since 1972 (Nixon), and no Republican has won over 10 percent of the black vote since Bob Dole in 1996. So what would Rand Paul have to do to win his magical 30 percent threshold of black voters?
Setting the Table
First, let's assume Rand Paul is the GOP presidential nominee in 2016, and he'll be facing off against Hillary Clinton. While Hillary doesn't have the warmest of relationships with African American voters, she'll have her husband Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and a slew of members of Congress and black celebrities campaigning for her. Let's assume some drop-off from Obama's African American numbers to Hillary, and we'll give Rand Paul a sporting chance and spot him the 13 percent of the black vote he gets in Kentucky. So he would need to grab about 17 percent more black voters to make his dreams come true.
The following three things would have to happen in the next two years for Rand Paul to have a chance.
1. Republicans would have to both abandon and repudiate voter ID policies from the national to the local party. The first reason is obvious. If you actually want black voters to come out and vote for you, you should probably abandon policies that are specifically designed to frustrate and suppress African American turnout. Second, voter ID is the single most galvanizing issue for black turnout against Republicans during the Obama presidency. Rand Paul knows this. He spoke out against voter ID legislation as both bad strategy and poor policy repeatedly before he got cold feet and backtracked on Hannity. Voter ID laws cut down the black vote by about 3-5 percent. If Rand Paul makes himself the GOP point man for stopping voter ID he can earn some of those votes.
2016 Black Vote Goal: (13 percent + 4 percent = 17 percent)
2. Rand Paul would have to champion and pass some legislation that specifically benefits the African American community -- preferably a policy that Obama has been too cautious or distracted to pass. Enterprise Zones specifically targeted at the inner city, sentencing reform that expunges the records of non-violent drug offenders, a federal block grant to hire more minority police officers -- the options are endless. The NAACP Battleground poll of 2012 showed that 13 percent of African Americans would consider voting for a Republican presidential candidate if they took Civil Rights and Equality issues more seriously. If Paul does his job, maybe half of them will vote for him.
2016 Black Vote Goal: (17 percent + 6 percent = 23 percent)
3. Rand Paul would have to pick a credible African American man or woman as his running mate. When I say credible, I mean someone who actually has some legitimate cultural, ideological and policy connections to the African American community. Not a millionaire cheater like Herman Cain. Not a Haitian American Mormon married to a white man living in Utah like Mia Love. And not someone like Michael Steele who has too much negative baggage from pandering to the anti-Obama tea party crowd. Paul would have to select someone like Senator Tim Scott (R - South Carolina), a true card carrying conservative who doesn't seem to go out of his way to attack African Americans or Obama just to score points with white conservatives. If Paul really wanted to shake up the race and give himself a chance, he would go the John McCain route from 2008. McCain flirted publicly with the idea of picking Joe Lieberman as his running mate in 2008 with the promise to the public that only a bi-partisan ticket could fix Washington and that they'd only serve one term. Paul should pick his new political BFF Corey Booker from New Jersey. It would shock the political world, and Booker might just be politically hungry enough and ambitious enough to try it. Booker is currently polling at about 3 percent for 2016 without even declaring. A Paul/Booker ticket, focusing on civil liberties, the free market and ending gridlock would be the kind of radical multi-racial ticket that could grab a good chunk of conservative African American voters and galvanize under 40 black voters from across the spectrum.
2016 Black Vote Goal: (23 percent + 3 percent = 26 percent)
So in the end Rand Paul might fall just short of his 30 percent goal. But honestly, if he could pull 26 percent based on the strategy above, he'd flip states like Ohio and Virginia, and dash any chances Hillary has of pulling out Georgia or North Carolina. In other words, this plan is doable, and Rand Paul is just about the only Republican who has the ideology, background and drive to pull it off.
Of course, this is all wishful thinking, Rand Paul has about as much chance to win the GOP nomination in 2016 as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio or any of a host of Republican Senate candidates who will be hamstrung by their role in the most unpopular Congresses in American history. Plus, I doubt the GOP has enough messaging and policy discipline to get Republican governors and Secretaries of state to repeal voter ID policies (which help them get elected locally) for the overall good of possibly getting a Republican in the White House. That's like telling everyone to take a dive in the NFL because the league would be better served if the Cowboys make the Super-bowl. However, you have to give Paul credit for his big ideas and bold predictions. That's the kind of radical thinking that got a little known Senator from Illinois to believe he could be the first Democrat to get 40 percent of the White Vote and win the white house, as a black man. And that worked out pretty well for him.
Dr. Jason Johnson is a Professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book "Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell". He is a regular guest on Al Jazeera, CNN, MSNBC and Fox Business.