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Black Republicans Make Their Choice

Michael Steele, Joseph C. Phillips, Ken Blackwell and others offer their takes on the best GOP candidate.

Michael Steele (Alex Wong/Getty Images);
Joseph C. Phillips; Ken Blackwell (Mark Lyons/Getty Images)

With four Republican candidates left in the presidential race, each giving his all in the countdown to the South Carolina primary on Saturday, the GOP electorate is still up for grabs. And despite the persistent "Mitt Romney is inevitable" narrative, for many Republican voters the nominee is anything but a foregone conclusion.

The Root spoke with five prominent black conservatives -- the former chair of the Republican National Committee, a civil rights activist, a former mayor of Cincinnati, a talk-radio host you may remember as the guy who begged John McCain to "take it to Obama" at a town hall in 2008, and a writer and actor best known for his role as Denise's husband on The Cosby Show -- to see which choices they're leaning toward. If their varying, but mostly undecided, outlooks on the race are any indication, this primary season could stretch out quite a bit longer.

Michael Steele, Former Chairman of the Republican National Committee and MSNBC Political Analyst

I've made a concerted effort to stay above [endorsements] so I can look at what the candidates are doing and how they're being perceived as objectively as possible. What I will say is that I really have a problem with members of the party, particularly those who are part of the "establishment," pooh-poohing our candidates who have made the commitment to run. Belittling their prospects is sort of glomming on to this idea that's been floated around by folks on the left that these guys aren't ready for prime time.

I find that to be highly insulting because they made a commitment that the folks who are running their mouths have never made. They are putting their families and their communities out there for the public to scrutinize. You're talking about folks who have been governors and significant leaders nationally who have done important things for the country. You may not like their speaking style, you may not like their demeanor or they may not be as aggressive as you'd like them to be or whatever, but their qualifications and their leadership qualities are clearly things that have helped them get this far.

Niger Innis, Political Consultant and National Spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality

My candidate was Herman Cain. I supported him for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that he captured the imagination of the American people because he was not a politician as usual. He was a businessman and a leader, and in sharp contrast to the big-government policies of the current administration, he would have been a dramatic departure from that philosophy.

Herman, unfortunately, could not stay in the race, which I think is good news for Obama. Obama's worst nightmare would have been Cain getting the nomination. His second-worst nightmare was Cain's candidacy having the buoyancy that it had throughout the primary process. It's kind of hard to demonize the Republican Party and make them into a bunch of racists when the guy who's at the top of the polls is a black man blacker than Obama.

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I have not found another candidate to support. There are things I like about each candidate. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich both make the best arguments for why African Americans, Latinos and working-class folk of whatever color need to join the Republican Party. Ron Paul's views on foreign policy may be a bit out of the mainstream of Republican orthodoxy, but we would be quite foolish indeed to discard Paul and his supporters.