College Republicans At Historically Black Colleges And Universities Struggle To Connect With Romney

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney laugh as they react to the crowd as they arrive at a New Hampshire campaign rally at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H., Monday, Nov. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney laugh as they react to the crowd as they arrive at a New Hampshire campaign rally at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H., Monday, Nov. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON -- When the TV networks announced that President Barack Obama had clinched Ohio and won a second term on election night, many college students around the country celebrated. In Washington, D.C., a number of these young people -- who were a key constituency in giving Obama a boost over GOP nominee Mitt Romney -- rushed downtown to Pennsylvania Avenue and celebrated outside the White House.

The atmosphere was just as celebratory -- if not more so -- at the nation's historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs. After all, the country chose to reelect the nation's first African-American president, despite rough economic times, so countless watch parties were hosted on election night at these campuses.

But Harold Booker, a senior at Morehouse College, wasn't joining in the festivities. Instead, he watched the election results from his dorm room, alone.

Booker is a rarity at an HBCU: a Republican.

"I tell people all the time, if you look at the African-American community -- especially in the South -- we're very much so socially and fiscally conservative," Booker said. "When you look at the policies of the Democratic Party, they don't represent our families and communities, and what they need to grow and develop."

Matthew Reid, a sophomore who is also a Republican at Morehouse, also spent election night in the comfort of his dorm room.

"I just hope the country made the right decision and picked the best person for the job," said Reid, who is white.

William Dixon, a junior at Howard University -- which is in the nation's capitol -- was one of the students who ran to the White House after Obama's win. But unlike most of the people there, he was proudly sporting his Romney-Ryan sweatshirt. As the crowd chanted phrases such as "Four more years!" and "Romney can't hold me back!" Dixon wanted to give the Republican ticket one more moment in the spotlight, comparing it to a sports team that fans need to support in good times and bad.

But not all Republicans on HBCU campuses were as enthusiastic about Romney as Dixon. The largely lukewarm support he generated may have reflected the 2012 nominee's larger inability to connect with communities of color.

According to CNN’s exit polls for 2008 and 2012, black voters' support for the president declined from 95 percent in 2008 to 93 percent in 2012. But among Asian voters, Obama's support increased from 62 percent in 2008 to 73 percent in 2012, and among Latino voters, his support increased from 67 percent in 2008 to 71 percent in 2012. Romney's lack of minority-voter support has led the party to some soul-searching, with many top officials looking at how they can reach out, beyond white voters, for the next election cycle.

"Most Republicans I know didn't support Mitt Romney in the primaries," said Booker, who supported former GOP nominees Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Herman Cain -- a Morehouse College graduate -- in the primary process. "Many of us had a hard time jumping on the Romney bandwagon because of his policies and even his character."

"There was not a strong enough movement on campus to even try and sway people to vote for Gov. Romney," added Reid.

Being a Republican at an HBCU can, at times, be lonely. Some students said they recalled times when their peers would call them "sell-outs" or "self-serving."

And there may be more conservatives on these campuses than it appears at first glance. According to students who are openly Republican, some other students are "secret" or "closet" conservatives who ensure that their party affiliation is kept private so that they're not burdened with the stigma and stereotypes associated with leaning right.

Booker remembers a time during his philosophy class when he and his classmates were tasked with writing or drawing 10 personal characteristics, and Booker drew the Republican elephant. The professor asked him about the elephant and then said that he too was a conservative.

After class, according to Booker, several students approached him to say that they agreed with some of the ideas of Paul and Cain, but did not want to say it aloud in front of others.

Dixon will have graduated by the time 2016 rolls around, when Republicans have their next chance to win the White House. In the meantime, Dixon said he's motivated to get the Howard University Student Republicans going again, even though he has run into obstacles when doing so in the past, like lack of student support and failed attempts at finding a sponsor. He hopes that by galvanizing students earlier before the next presidential election, he can perhaps convince a few more of his peers to vote for Republicans -- an effort at bringing more minorities and young people into the GOP that will no doubt be appreciated by the party as it struggles to move beyond its base of older, white voters.

"Democrats reach out to young, minority and female voters all year round -- and do a good job," Dixon said. "It's up to me and other young Republicans to get them involved with our party if the GOP doesn't."

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