Guillory is a 70-year-old black Republican state senator in Louisiana who has captured the hearts and minds of conservative websites over the past month as his Free At Last PAC cut ad after ad hammering vulnerable Democratic Senate candidates. After debuting his argument against Mary Landrieu in his home state, Guillory was recruited to adapt it for commercials against Michelle Nunn in Georgia, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and Kay Hagan in North Carolina.
Even if, as various local Democratic operatives suggested to Dave Weigel, Guillory is too much of a known political wildcard to truly upend Louisiana’s partisan balance in the black community, his initial, extended proof-of-concept attack on Mary Landrieu was superbly executed. It also shows, by contrast, the probable limits of Guillory’s effectiveness in making an impact further from home.
This ad is grounded in Guillory’s own attachment to his Opelousas community, “Academy Street, the hill section.” He voices the not-uncommon sentiment in the black community that they are taken for granted, and receive little attention or influence in exchange for their near-unanimous electoral support, and closes on Landrieu’s own confused attachment to place as he urges voters to “send her back home to her father’s house, or to her mansion in Washington, D.C., or to wherever the heck she lives, because one thing is for sure: she does not live here, on Academy Street, on the hill.” From everything I can judge as an outsider, it is an ad that knows its audience, and its target, and its context.
Guillory’s hit on Kay Hagan, by contrast, is at the other end of the spectrum in his range of commercials.
As opposed to the grounded familiarity of Guillory’s Landrieu take-down, here he only alludes vaguely to North Carolina while recapitulating standard lines against “limousine liberals,” with the briefest of shots of the Raleigh skyline. Worse, however, he trots out the slavery rhetoric, calling Democrats “our new overseers,” as “we’ve only traded one plantation for another.” As the thoughtful Twitter account @BlackRepublican said:
Black conservatives using the plantation/slave analogy are trying to appeal to the white conservative base not black people.
— Ξ BLACK REPUBLICAN Ξ (@blackrepublican) October 27, 2014
However well-intentioned Elbert Guillory may be, the Our America PAC running the ad is not likely to help Thom Tillis break that 10 percent mark in tonight’s election; if it has any effect, the ad may only poison the well a little further thanks to its sloppy use of slavery.
Elbert Guillory may be beloved of Fox News bookers at the moment, but he is also emblematic of a Republican party that has done so little to cultivate its black support that it must use an (admittedly talented) state senator from Louisiana to try and appeal to voters on the other side of the South. Guillory is right, however, that it would not take a large defection of black voters to have major electoral implications.
To get to that point, Republicans can follow Rand Paul’s lead. Paul got off to a shaky start with an uneven performance at Howard University last year, but instead of getting spooked by the pushback he has continued having conversations with black communities across the country. That’s what it takes to build trust, and comfort.
Nate Silver’s predictive warlocks give Kay Hagan a 69 percent chance of retaining her seat come tomorrow morning, and if Thom Tillis pulls the upset it will likely be without any sizable uptick in black support. But when Republican politicians with as divergent politics as Rand Paul and Chris Christie can each claim approval ratings among their respective state’s blacks in the 30s, conservatives nationwide should wake up to the electoral possibilities available just outside their comfort zone.
Come 2016, they could make all the difference.