'Turned off' by Democrats, two young Black men from Greenville defying norms with GOP shift
Many assume that Black voters will automatically support Democratic candidates in South Carolina, but two young Black businessmen who lean conservative are defying political norms.
Kaleb Allen, 24, and Seth Dawkins, 29, of Greenville, who own and operate a cleaning business, recently formed a group called Political Movers, backed by the Spartanburg County Republican Party.
Dawkins said his uncle knew a Spartanburg County GOP official, Kathryn Behlert, who invited them to attend a Palmetto House Republican Women's meeting in Spartanburg.
They enjoyed it and attended more before they decided to organize their own group, Political Movers.
Yvonne Julian, chairwoman elect of the Greenville County Republican Party, said she doesn't know Dawkins or Allen, but she's glad the Spartanburg County GOP is encouraging young Black voters to get involved.
"I certainly support that movement," Julian said. "A lot of the tactics the left uses is dividing groups, particularly Black people."
Dawkins and Allen said they hope to attract more voters of color who want to get involved in politics and may feel abandoned by the Democratic Party or as Independent voters.
"What is getting us motivated is the possibility of change," Dawkins said. "I would describe myself as unequivocally American, I fall in the middle. It's important for us as a nation to come together."
Behlert, a longtime member and official with the Spartanburg County GOP, said both men expressed an interest in forming Political Movers ― a place where conservative minorities with similar values could meet and engage.
"They had been Democrat, and just wanted to do something, make sure they have a voice," Behlert said. "And they don't (have a voice) in the Democratic Party. Our policies are more in tune with them."
Political Movers kicked off its first meeting in March, featuring Pastor Mark Burns of Easley. Burns, an African-American, ran an aggressive campaign last year against U.S. Rep. William Timmons in the 4th District GOP primary. He got 23.8% of the Republican vote, but Timmons won with 52.69%.
The second meeting was held April 27 at Spartanburg County Library Headquarters, featuring conservative Black Republicans, Hope Blackley of Spartanburg, and state Sen. Mike Reichenbach, of Florence.
Blackley formerly served as Spartanburg County's elected Clerk of Courts, then worked for Timmons as 4th District director before forming her own consulting firm.
Reichenbach, a self-described "pro-lifer and pro-2nd Amendment conservative," owns three car dealerships. He was elected to the State Senate in March 2022 to fulfill the unexpired term of the late Hugh K. Leatherman, Sr.
"My mom and dad taught me never to be defined by my race," said Reichenbach, the lone Black Republican in the state Senate. There are 11 Black Democrat senators, including Sen. Karl Allen of Greenville.
Reichenbach said there aren't more elected Black Republicans because most Black voters still identify as Democrats.
"It is an incredibly good narrative by the Democratic machine … that they, the minorities, need Democrats, that 'we're here to save you,'" Reichenbach said. "It's brainwashing at its finest level to tell somebody you need me because the big bad wolf over here is out to destr oy you – they want to take away rights, take away this, take away that.
"If I can talk issues, asking (Black voters) what's important to you, normally I've got 80 to 85 percent of what's important to them is what the Republican Party believes in."
As examples, he cited gun rights, smaller government, lower taxes, school choice, term limits and strong anti-abortion laws.
Black voters still 'backbone of Democratic Party'
Kathryn Harvey, chairwoman of the Spartanburg County Democratic Party, said Black voters are still "the backbone of the Democratic Party in South Carolina and across the country."
"It's clear that we, as a party, have work to do to make sure our Black communities feel supported and heard and we plan on doing the work in 2024 and beyond to make sure that happens," she said.
"But if these gentlemen believe the extremist Republican supermajority in the (state) Legislature is working in their favor as they pass book bans, attempt to censor education, threaten our health care and raise costs for working families, then it is very likely they never aligned with our Democratic values in the first place."
Curt Smith, chairman of the Spartanburg County GOP, said many voters, including Black people, don't identify as being conservative or liberal, or Republican or Democrat.
"There are a lot of issues we can all agree on," Smith said.
There are 2.4 million registered white voters in South Carolina, compared to 1 million non-white voters, according to the State Election Commission.
In South Carolina, 59% of white adults surveyed identify as Republican, while just 7% of Black adults identify as Republican. By comparison, 23% of white adults identify as Democrats and 78% of Blacks identify as Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center.
Black voters in South Carolina propelled Biden to victory
Black voters helped paved President Biden's way to the White House in 2020.
In the South Carolina Democratic primary, Biden received nearly two-thirds of the Black vote. His victory propelled him to the party's nomination.
Biden was riding high with a nearly 90% approval rating from Black Americans during his first six months in office. But in January 2022, only six of 10 Black Americans said they approved of Biden.
Dawkins said he turned to support Donald Trump in 2020 after being turned off by remarks Biden made during a radio interview with host Charlamagne Tha God.
"If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump then you ain’tBlack,” Biden said.
"That ruined it for me," Dawkins said. "I'm turned off by the Democratic Party."
Mike Fowler of Spartanburg's south side, who has run for political office as a Democrat and a Republican, said he believes there are more young Black people like Dawkins and Allen who are feeling disenfranchised.
"The Democratic Party has not taken us seriously," Fowler said. "I grew up in a Democratic household. It was dysfunctional because we were conservatives. Some folks took the word conservatism and perverted it."Fowler said Blacks don't want their support to be assumed.
Meanwhile, Democrat Monier Abusaft, the lone Black Spartanburg County Council member, said turning from Democrats to Republicans is not the answer.
"I don't think you can claim the Republican Party is truly diverse," he said. "We (Democrats) are truly reflective of the country. The Republican Party is not, because they choose not to be. I have little fear that groups like this (Political Movers) will find much traction in communities of color."
Bob Montgomery covers Spartanburg County politics and growth and development for the Herald-Journal. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.