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Ifill: The GOP Does Not Have Any ‘Breakthrough’ Candidates, They ‘Seem To Have Gone Backwards’

By Matt Corley

"Ifill: The GOP Does Not Have Any ‘Breakthrough’ Candidates, They ‘Seem To Have Gone Backwards’"

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Last night, the Center for American Progress hosted a discussion between PBS’s Gwen Ifill and CAP President John Podesta about Ifill’s new book, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.” After the event, Ifill sat down for an interview with ThinkProgress, where we asked her about the Republican party’s efforts to reach out to African-American voters.

During her talk with Podesta, Ifill said that she didn’t believe that RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s race was the motivating factor behind why Republicans elected him. In the interview, Ifill said that “they weren’t so caught up with the idea of Barack Obama being black that they were going to sacrifice their need to come back just to elect a black guy.”

“They needed someone that could articulate what the Republican brand still is,” said Ifill. “And he did that better than the other guys running for office.” Asked if she saw any “breakthrough” candidates in the Republican party, Ifill responded bluntly, “not yet”:

IFILL: In fact, we seem to have gone backwards. I mean, we used to have J.C. Watts in the House, but now there are no black Republicans in Congress. At all. That’s a step back. In order to change that direction, there has to be recruiting going on. I think there is recruiting going on at some lower levels, but they’ve got some ground to make up.

Watch it:

Former Oklahoma representative J.C. Watts, whom Ifill mentioned, retired from Congress in 2002. Since then, no African-Americans have been elected to Congress on the Republican ticket. According to Pew Research in March 2008, the share of African-Americans identifying themselves as Republican has stayed steady this past decade at around 4 percent.

Transcript:

THINK PROGRESS: Well, first of all, I was just wondering if you could follow up a little bit on your comments that you were talking about, brought up Michael Steele and you said you didn’t think he was necessarily elected because he was African-American and I was just wondering if you could follow up a little bit on that more.

IFILL: I think the Republican Party is at a point where they have to, they just lost the presidency, they lost seats in the House and the Senate, they had to figure a way to comeback. And so, they weren’t so caught up with the idea of Barack Obama being black that they were going to sacrifice their need to come back just to elect a black guy. They needed somebody that could speak for them. They needed someone that could articulate what the Republican brand still is. And he did that better than the other guys running for office. He knew how to do that. He has been reliable and he knows how to play the politics of getting elected. So I think all of that had much more to do with it than race — his race — or the party’s desire to reach out to black voters.

THINK PROGRESS: And do you see a breakthrough candidate in the GOP right now?

IFILL: Not Yet. In fact, we seem to have gone backwards. I mean, we used to have J.C. Watts in the House, but now there are no black Republicans in Congress. At all. That’s a step back. In order to change that direction, there has to be recruiting going on. I think there is recruiting going on at some lower levels, but they’ve got some ground to make up.

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