ESSENCE.COM: Senator Barack Obama seems to have a majority of the Black vote. What does Senator John McCain have to do to gain the support of African-American voters?
AMY HOLMES: John McCain has to reach out and listen to the concerns of the Black community, and then find innovative ways to address those concerns. The fact that he’s unlikely to get above 10 percent of the Black vote in this election is sad. It actually makes his appeal to the Black community all the more sincere and more authentic because there’s not a lot he’s going to get out of it politically in the short term.
ESSENCE.COM: Does he even need our support?
HOLMES: Well, traditionally Republican candidates have not secured the win with the Black vote. The Black vote tends to go about 90 percent for the Democratic candidate, but the African-American constituency is one that the Republicans should be courting because they do have ideas and African-Americans are part of our country.
ESSENCE.COM: The McCain campaign has accused Obama of shifting his policies. Do you think Obama is becoming more conservative as the campaign continues?
HOLMES: (Chuckles) I think that he is moving toward the right in the general campaign, as do a lot of his liberal supporters who’ve been very upset with what they see as a rightward [move] on Iraq and on wiretapping.
ESSENCE.COM: As a Black conservative, how do you respond to criticism that you should support Obama because he’s Black instead of McCain?
HOLMES: Black Americans should vote for whomever we think is most qualified to lead our country. We should have the freedom as all Americans to make our own personal assessments and judgments. And that to me is the essence of enfranchisement of the Black vote, which I get to make on my own. It’s a freedom that we fought very hard for.
ESSENCE.COM: As we move closer to Election Day, what issues are most critical for Black voters?
HOLMES: The economy is number one. High gas prices are hitting the middle-class and low-income families hardest. It’s not a White problem or a Black problem, it’s everyone’s problem and we need to figure out some innovative ways to get those energy prices down and get alternatives into the market. Also, we have an education system that has continuously failed our Black kids and we need to start exploring some innovative alternative to the current mess we’re in.
ESSENCE.COM: What will Obama have to do to win the presidency?
HOLMES: He needs to sharpen his focus and tell the American people what he really thinks and who he really is. Voters know McCain; they know his personal history; and they know his heroism, his war service, and his war sacrifice. They know McCain as a guy who’s a real reformer, whereas Barack Obama is still a question mark for a lot of voters.