Glenn McCall made history last year by becoming the first black chairman ever to lead the Republican Party in York County. Now, he's eyeing another first, this time on the national stage.
McCall will run for one of South Carolina's two seats on the Republican National Committee, a 100-member body that decides party platforms, manages the primary schedule and shapes election strategy. The news was first reported Thursday on heraldonline.com.
No blacks currently sit on the committee. To get elected, McCall must win a majority of votes among 1,400 S.C. Republicans who serve as delegates to the state convention. They will decide May 31 in Columbia.
"When you look at my background, also the work I have done in reaching out across the ethnic lines, that's critical for our party if we're going to be successful," said McCall, 53. "Unless we realize the demographic shift that's happening, we won't be the dominant party in the next 10 to 15 years. We have to let folks know, you don't need to be black, white, brown or red to be Republican. Just a conservative."
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The only other declared candidate is Drew McKissick, a political strategist in Columbia. A spot on the committee would make either man one of the most visible Republican figures in South Carolina, at least at the party activist level.
Cindy Costa of Charleston holds one slot. The other opened when Columbia orthodontist Buddy Witherspoon launched a bid against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. Members cannot run for office while serving on the committee.
Beyond the race line
McCall, a vice president at Bank of America, has sought to downplay the importance of his race in describing his ascension in the party. However, the racial dimension is hard to overlook at a time when Republicans are trying to make inroads with black voters.
At the 2004 GOP convention, a number of black Republicans were invited to stand on stage with President Bush, prompting skeptics to joke there were more blacks behind him than among the thousands seated in the audience.
Nationally, less than 10 percent of blacks vote Republican.
"There are some who might dismiss his presence in a pretty nasty way as more of the usual from the GOP," said Adolphus Belk, a political scientist at Winthrop University. "If someone like Mr. McCall is up front, it might send some messages to those conservative African-American voters that there is a place for them. The idea is that they might be able to look at him, and take a different look at the party because of his presence."
McCall is believed to be the second black GOP chairman in South Carolina history, following North Charleston City Councilman Jesse Dove, who chaired Dorchester County in the late 1990s.
Moving back to the right
In one of his first acts last year, McCall took the rare step of urging local Republicans to speak out against one of their own. He sent a "call to action" e-mail asking party members to pressure Graham not to support a controversial immigration bill derided by critics as a form of amnesty.
McCall's emergence comes at a time when many S.C. Republicans are moving toward an ultraconservative brand of politics, a rightward shift that occasionally puts them at odds with moderates here and elsewhere.
"There is an attempt in our party to water down what we believe and stand for," McCall said Thursday. "We have been victorious over the past 25 years for standing for those things that most Americans want and believe in."
McCall mentioned lower taxes, strong national defense and the belief that life is sacred as examples.
Hoping to broaden the party's reach, McCall formed a York County Young Republican Club and helped recruit Marvin Rogers, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, to run for an open state House seat in Rock Hill. Rogers is black.
"Glenn's a solid Republican who doesn't mind speaking his mind and has worked hard in the trenches," said Katon Dawson, chairman of the state party. "It certainly would be very symbolic to South Carolina. That being said, more of how we have been approaching outreach (is) what you believe in, not just your religion and your color."
Candidates for party posts typically spend hundreds of hours traveling to county functions, speaking at district meetings and making phone calls to all 1,400 delegates. McCall said he recently bought an extra cell phone with a cheaper long distance plan. He'll start making calls this week.