Back in June, 32 black Republicans were running for Congress. Three months and dozens of primaries later, that number has dwindled to just 13 people, only a handful of whom — three, according to New York Times statistician Nate Silver — actually have a strong chance of winning come November: Allen West of Florida, Ryan Frazier of Colorado and Tim Scott of South Carolina. Still, three black Republicans in the House will be three more than there's been in seven years, since Oklahoman J.C. Watts retired, and it's got a lot of people buzzing. To quote New York magazine: "Considering the status quo [in Congress], next year will look like a Tyler Perry movie in comparison."
Naturally, talk of black Congress members leads to talk of the Congressional Black Caucus. Founded in 1969, the CBC is now the leading African-American policymaking body in the United States, with 42 members representing every region of the continental United States. There's just one problem: The CBC doesn't have a single Republican member.
In its decades-long history, the CBC has had just two Republican members: Delegate Melvin Evans of the Virgin Islands and Rep. Gary Franks of Connecticut, who would occasionally clash with his Democratic colleagues. When the CBC boycotted President Richard Nixon's 1971 State of the Union address to protest his refusal to meet with them, they chose not to ask African-American Senator Edward Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts, to join their cause. Brooke condemned the CBC boycott, saying, "It is my duty as a United States senator to be present, to listen and to consider his recommendations."
Watts, who never attempted to join the caucus, was not as cordial in his rebuke of the body. Before he retired, he called the CBC a bunch of "race-hustling poverty pimps."
With animosity seemingly on both sides, one might think that future black Republican members of Congress would have no interest in joining the CBC. As it turns out, many are saying differently.
Allen West, who is running against incumbent Ron Klein in Florida, told the Daily Caller in a July interview that, if elected, he'd actively seek CBC membership. "I think I have every right to," said West, who has advocated for the dismantling of the departments of Education and Energy. "I would be in Congress, and I would be black, and so I should be able to sit with them and, again, bring a different perspective."
For both West and Frazier, who still have a difficult road ahead of them if they're going to achieve victories in November, talk of joining the CBC is probably a bit premature. To their South Carolinian counterpart Scott, however, a sure-thing candidate who's all but been given a key to his new Washington office, a CBC berth is likely — yet he's not so sure he's interested.
"I'm often asked the question about joining the Congressional Black Caucus," he said in an e-mail to The Root. "I am focused on my campaign and winning in November, and honestly have not made a decision. In the future, if an offer does come, I look forward to making that decision at that time."
Scott's lukewarm response is almost surely similar to how members of the CBC feel about bringing Republicans into the fold. Though a caucus spokesperson declined multiple requests for comment, the icy history between African-American Republicans and the CBC does not portend a great relationship come Nov. 3.
For their part, black Republicans say that, should they win, they won't naively hold their breath for a gracious invitation from the CBC. "Now, I really presume that the CBC will just change their name to preclude me from joining it," said West, "but that's OK; I'll start my own caucus."
Michel Faulkner, the African-American Republican running against the embroiled Charles Rangel in New York's 15th, would also like to join the CBC if elected, but he's similarly pessimistic about the CBC's willingness to seek out his opinions. And that, he says, hurts the black community in general.
"I have a lot of interest in being a part of the CBC; I think it's an important body and it's important to be in it to be a part of the conversation," he said in a phone call while campaigning in Washington, D.C. "I'm not sure if they would welcome my input. I would hope that they are growing to the point where they can understand the diversity of our people. The people are best served through competition, and that competition cannot be given by just one party. It can't just be one party."
Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.