Voter Divide Gives Black Bloc New Significance; the 2000 Election Showed the Importance of Even Small Groups of Voters

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Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA -- When Cathy Cox's gubernatorial campaign issued a news release listing two-thirds of the House as endorsing the secretary of state over Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, her supporters spun it as evidence of her strength among African-Americans.

That's just added evidence that the importance of the black vote is growing, and that it no longer constitutes a cohesive bloc.

Consider the attention devoted to African-Americans recently.

In the previous week, Jesse Jackson led the national media and 10,000 marchers through Atlanta in observance of the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Howard Dean, head of the Democratic National Committee, and his Republican counterpart, Ken Mehlman, came to Georgia to debate the importance of the black vote to their parties in a session hosted by the National Association of Black Journalists.

"The Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, will not be whole again until more African-Americans come home," Mehlman said. And in the five months since becoming head of the party, he's addressed 17 black audiences with his message.

Mehlman, whose grandfather was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, repeated his apology for the Republican Party's use of what has become known as "the Southern Strategy."

At its heart, the Southern Strategy was described as having been a conscious plan by the Nixon campaign in 1968 to pander to white Southerners' racial prejudices. It was partly based on using code phrases like "law and order" and "get tough on crime," and discussion of states' rights as opposed to federally protected civil rights.

Dean claims Republicans still use a Southern Strategy, such as in 2000 when George Bush made a speech at Bob Jones University, which forbids interracial dating.

Dean said the strategy was the reason Georgia Republicans enacted a law this year requiring voters to show government-issued photo IDs before getting a ballot.

"We have a new Southern Strategy and a new Jim Crow, and it comes in the form of a voting ID bill," Dean said. …