Female, black, gay - and all Republicans

2011-06-14 09:09

Manchester - What do you get when you put a black man, two women, and a gay Jew in a room? Surprise answer: About half of today's crop of Republican presidential hopefuls.

The party of Ronald Reagan, George W Bush or John McCain has long been associated with elderly, white, male leaders and also a voting core depending heavily on white men.

But that truism has imploded ahead of the November 2012 battle against President Barack Obama, with a veritable rainbow of candidates vying for the Republican nomination.

The most visible shake up is in the gender department where Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin - both of them fiery Tea Party figures - are putting men on notice.

Bachmann was taking part in a seven-way candidate debate on Monday in the key primary battleground of New Hampshire, while Palin, who has not declared her candidacy, has been driving around the region in a bus, talking up her patriotism.

There has never been a female US president. Hillary Clinton, now secretary of state, came closest when she narrowly lost to Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries.

Cain in third place

Until Obama, of course, there had never been an African American president either. So how about two black men fighting for the White House?

Unlikely, yes, but not impossible thanks to Herman Cain, a pizza tycoon who's generated buzz during early skirmishes of the Republican primary season.

The latest Gallup poll puts Cain in third place behind Palin and frontrunner Mitt Romney, who may be a straight white guy, but, just to keep things interesting, is also a Mormon.

Cain downplays the race aspect. "Am I black?" he laughed when AFP asked him how important it was that Republicans had found an African American challenger.

"I believe most people have gotten past colour," he said outside a campaign event in New Hampshire, where one of the first and most important primaries is held in February. "What is important is that I'm an American, black conservative."

Republicans may have loosened up past fixations on Protestant white men, but Fred Karger's bid to be the first gay Jewish Republican presidential candidate could be pushing that flexibility a little too far.

Steep hill

At a Republican get-together in New Hampshire over the weekend the former Reagan aide handed out Frisbees with his name, urging party members to have more fun. "I wanted to leave cookies, but this is part of my 'get fit America campaign'".

Karger said he's not "delusional" about his chances and for now his main aim is to qualify for entry into one of the televised debates so that he can overcome his low profile and confront the heavyweights face-to-face.

The steep hill he needs to climb - both in terms of becoming known and in becoming accepted - was quickly apparent as he addressed the crowd at the Republican event.

This was an old-fashioned party gathering: White, elderly and no nonsense. And although they listened politely to Karger's talk about reaching out to Democratic foes, the grumbling soon followed.

"I don't get it. How do you get along with (Democrats)?" Jo Levine, a well-built sales rep, said.

Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor and one of the few Protestant white men in the Republican presidential field, came up next and when he firmly declared against gay marriage, the room broke into enthusiastic applause.

Still, Don Holden, an information security expert in the audience, said Karger's presence showed the party really had changed. "He's challenging the mainstream Republican positions, but he wasn't booed or thrown out," Holden said.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  sarah palin  |  us  |  us elections 2012

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