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Words and Deeds

"Words and Deeds" Continued...

Issue: "All-American adoption story," Nov. 21, 2009

King said the shift may be traceable to small outreach to conservative African-Americans, inviting them to events, to conferences. McDonnell sought black support. He spoke alongside Democratic National Committee chair Kaine and Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele (who is African-American) at an NAACP dinner in Chesterfield, Va., in September. Deeds was campaigning elsewhere. McDonnell also visited NAACP fundraisers. "African-Americans will be looking for candidates who believe what they believe and can deliver," said King.

But conservative candidates still have a large hill to climb in attracting black voters. Chris Christie, the Republican who won the race for New Jersey governor, spoke to a group of black pastors in October. He didn't get a warm response. When he mentioned the "common interests" they held, 73-year-old attendant Delores Lewis shouted, "You're lying now." His Democratic opponent Jon Corzine received a standing ovation when he arrived to address the same audience.

As the Virginia campaign was winding up, glittering political women threw a dinner for Maureen McDonnell, Bob's wife, and two of their daughters, Jeanine and Cailin, in a stately home in Northern Virginia. Wine flowed freely and guests nibbled on crab cakes and steak, hobnobbing with VIPs like Susan Allen, wife of former Virginia governor George Allen (a Republican who won 20 percent of the African-American vote when he was elected).

A third of the hundred or so women at the dinner were black, and many of them were young, a demographic that votes Democratic. Donna Cryer is one of those young black women but she supported McDonnell because she said he gets back to "Lincoln Republicanism," which she sees as the conservative values that form the "bedrock" of the black community. She describes her grandmother, who lived in West Virginia, as a Lincoln Republican.

"Everyone of us had a Republican grandfather or grandmother. We didn't leave the party, the party left us," she said, holding a plate of grapes and cheese.

Alveda King came too, along with other prominent African-American women like pro-life advocate Kay James, who served in the Bush administration and under Gov. George Allen. James proclaimed about Maureen: "I just love her." Maureen shouted back over the crowd, "Love you more!"

The star of the evening was Sheila Johnson, who told the women to kick off their high heels, which Maureen did with zest. Johnson was at ease among a roomful of Republicans.

"I keep hearing the stories from a lot of Democrats-same stories-where they needed us, and now they forgot us," she said. "I'm not going to let politicians take me for granted anymore."

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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