The Republican Party's increasingly Southern power base could be at risk if it fails to incorporate Southern blacks.
That was the stern warning this week from Milton Bins, a member of the Dole-Kemp '96 Task Force on Education, Job Training and Outplacement.Following Tuesday's election - where 8 out of 10 blacks voted to reelect President Bill Clinton - Bins said ``the (Republican) Party will wither on the vine unless it energizes the recruitment of blacks.'
``We have to go after it - especially in the South,' where more Republicans are coming from, he said, speaking to a group of conservative black leaders and political analysts who met to discuss the 1996 black electorate.
Although the GOP retained its majority in both chambers of Congress, their margin narrowed in the all-important House of Representatives and the solid Democratic black vote could hurt them more in each election, Bins said.
``Five senate races could have tilted the other way,' he said. ``Republicans barely held on to those seats and the party is approaching a limit' where it cannot afford to ignore black voters.
But some experts say Republicans won't reach out for the minority vote in fear of losing their traditional conservative white constituency - particularly in the South where racism and politics are often intermingled.
While the GOP suffered substantial losses in the Midwest, Northeast and the West Coast, they picked up 10 additional House and Senate seats in Southern states.
But Bins warns that if the GOP continues to alienate black voters, their new-found southern power will also diminish.
No one can deny the strong influence of black voters in this election, said David Bositis, a senior analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank that focuses on black issues and politics.
For example, he said, Rep. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., who will return as a senator, and Reps. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., Martin Frost, D-Texas, Corrine Brown, D-Fla., and ``several other Democrats would not be returning to Congress without it.'
As the Republican Party in Congress takes on more of a Southern flavor, Bositis said that catering to black voters there could be the key to maintaining future power.
Many traditional swing voters, such as Roman Catholics and Jews, don't relate to Southern culture, he said. ``This is to some degree a problem for the Republicans' who are led by conservative Southerners such as House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Senate Majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.
Meanwhile, about one-half of black voters live in Southern states and could be much easier to incorporate, Bositis said.