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Strange Bedfellows: George Bush and Don King

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Don King steps into the ring to help win black vote for Bush

By David Rennie in Philadelphia

June 4, 2004 London Telegraph



There are millions of black Republicans in America, according to Bishop R T Jones, a leading member of the party in Philadelphia. There is only one catch: they vote Democrat.


Bishop Jones, the black patriarch of the Christian Tabernacle church in Philadelphia, lamented: "Our family values are Republican, our social values are Republican. We think Republican, but only a few of us have the nerve to vote Republican."


Surveys show America split 50-50 between the two parties, as it was at the last election. But such nationwide figures obscure a racial chasm.


At the 2000 election, President George W Bush won just nine per cent of the black vote, a near-record low. With the recent resignation of J C Watts, a moderate from Oklahoma, there are no black Republicans in Congress.


Undeterred, and with every vote at stake, the Republican party's national chairman, Ed Gillespie, has launched a fresh drive for black support, touring the country's largest cities to woo black entrepreneurs.


This week found Mr Gillespie, a former lobbyist, on the stage of a Philadelphia jazz club, addressing the city's black business elite. He was flanked on one side by last year's Miss America, Erika Harold, statuesque in a brocade suit.


On the other stood the boxing promoter, Don King, his trademark silver quiff combed a good six inches above his head. Mr King held an American flag in one hand, and wore a Stars and Stripes tie round his neck, set off by a large crown-shaped pendant, set with diamonds and topped with the letters D O N.


Mr Gillespie had a simple message. "As the chairman of the Republican party, it is not in my interest that 90 per cent of the African-American electorate vote for the Democratic candidate in election after election," he said.


He warned against being taken for granted by the Democrats. He added: "I believe that African-American voters will benefit from a two-party system."


To Mr King, who once served three and a half years for manslaughter and who has been indicted - though never convicted - on federal charges including tax fraud and racketeering, that pragmatic appeal made sense.


"I'm a Republicrat," he began. "I'm for whoever is going to deliver for our people.


"Your vote is valuable. Make it something that everybody wants. And then you go out and you bargain with it."


Even Bishop Jones, a third generation Republican who admires Mr Bush's Christian values, volunteered that, as a black in the party, he has rarity value. "In the Democrats, I would be one of many. It is very possible to advance quickly in the Republican party, because they are looking for blacks to fill various posts," he said.


But buried beneath his bluster, Don King had a serious message.


Though he is touring America with Mr Gillespie as a star Republican supporter, Mr King offered a frank assessment of the leverage offered by yet another knife-edge election.


"They would usually be able to get the vote without us, so we were left out, we were disenfranchised, denied, we were not able to rise to the occasion, because we were black. That is no longer the case, and I can literally say to you with heartfelt joy that George Bush is reaching out." Before Mr Bush's time, he told the room, to applause, "inclusion was just an illusion".


"I do believe George Bush stands against racism," Mr King said afterwards, as he left for his next campaign event.


A crowd formed on the pavement, as Mr King noticed the oratorical possibilities of being interviewed by The Daily Telegraph. "I love Blair," he cried, without warning. "God bless Blair. The UK is great. Tony Blair is my man."


Mr King made his way to a waiting limousine, waving two small American flags.


Mr Gillespie watched indulgently, the unnoticed wielder of great power, letting his new friend steal the limelight. For a moment, this was Don King's Republican party, and that suited its chairman very well.

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