Racist jokes may have lasting impact on S.C. GOP

The State (Columbia, S.C.)June 18, 2009 

State Republican leaders said they do not think online racist jokes by party activists will have a long-term impact on the party's ability to attract black voters and candidates. But political experts and Democrats disagree.

Twice this week Republican activists have apologized for racist humor.

Wednesday, flanked by members of the NAACP, Columbia GOP activist Rusty DePass apologized for the Facebook remark that likened first lady Michelle Obama's ancestors to an escaped Riverbanks Zoo gorilla. On Tuesday, Mike Green, an employee with Lexington GOP consulting firm Starboard Communications apologized for an online joke about President Barack Obama taxing aspirin "because it's white and it works."

Starboard has been hired by U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, an Oconee Republican who is running for governor.

Despite the apologies, observers said voters likely will remember the incident as part of a longer history of disputes that includes removing the Confederate battle flag from the State House dome.

And voting data show S.C. Republicans have a tougher time attracting black voters than do Republicans nationally.

"I think it makes a strain to invite African-Americans to the Republican Party," said state Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland. "This kind of behavior does not close that gap very much."

Howard, former chairman of the State House Black Caucus, said he works well with Republicans often, but there are a handful of party members "that are completely out of control."

DePass issued an apology during a press conference called by the South Carolina NAACP.

"I am truly sorry for any offense I have caused," DePass said to a small crowd of NAACP supporters who turned out for the noon press event. "My remark was clearly inappropriate, and I apologize for writing it."

The NAACP had called on DePass to make a clear apology.

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