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Barlow Herget Commentary
Barlow Herget is a commentator and host on State Government Radio at Curtis Media. He has been a commentator on UNC public radio and an instructor in continuing education at Duke University. Herget was a Nieman Fellow ('70) at Harvard University, has worked for the Daily Press of Paragould, Ark., the Detroit Free Press, and the News & Observer of Raleigh. His articles have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times and numerous other publications. Contact him by email.
Party of one
Monday - 10/4/2010, 4:04pm EDT
Republican congressional candidate Renee Ellmers of North Carolina has attracted national attention with her new campaign ad about a proposed Muslim community center in New York City.
The ad appeared first on the Internet where it became viral and quickly made cable talk shows and news pages across the country. The 30-second spot is filled with both passion and inaccuracies. A North Carolina newspaper "ad watch" labeled it "false."
It stretches the truth to argue that the ad affects the economy and jobs outlook for the citizens in North Carolina's Second Congressional District. Indeed, the ad has little if nothing to do with North Carolina issues. But Americans and North Carolinians in particular have seen such campaign messages before.
Instead of stirring up racial or gender divisions as did her predecessor, Republican U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, Ms. Ellmers takes direct aim at Muslims and appeals to the anti-Muslim mood at loose in the land.
Carter Wrenn, the dark genius behind many of the late Senator Helms' ads and now a hireling for Ms. Ellmers, knows what he's doing. The Internet ad cost little and has received more attention than a $250,000 ad buy. Ms. Ellmers certainly has improved her visibility and fund raising with the ad.
But what do thoughtful Republicans think of this message? They must recognize that the short-term gains of beating up on Islam in 2010's angry election will have long-term consequences.
The advertisement's elitist posture of exclusion will not be forgotten by American Muslims who are citizens and voters and expanding. They are a small percentage of the population, and we'll know their numbers more accurately after the 2010 Census. Most estimates that I've seen count about five to six million.
The fastest growing group of new Americans is Hispanics. They are expected to be more than 16 percent of the U.S. population in 2010 and are already more than American blacks who account for 13 percent of the population.
Ever since the successful Southern Strategy of Republican Richard Nixon that appealed to white, segregationist Democrats, African Americans have turned overwhelmingly to Democrats in elections. Black voters came out in records numbers in 2008 to help elect the country's first black President, Barack Obama, a Democrat.
The recent harsh, anti-Hispanic comments by grass roots Republicans, conservative radio hosts and Republican lawmakers in the immigration reform debate have now driven Latino voters toward the Democrats. No less than Republican strategist Karl Rove recognizes with alarm this latest trend.
The majority of Americans are white like the almost all-white Tea Party movement, and Republican candidates can certainly win elections today just courting the white vote.
But can they afford to keep alienating one ethnic and religious group after another? They should know that the fastest growing minority on college campuses today is multi-racial students.
So far, the Republican Party has given the back of its hand to these new and different Americans who won't forget it. That's not smart politics when these Americans are changing the face of the country.