U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins offered encouragement to conservatives at a town hall forum that the Republican Party would embrace a "great white hope" capable of thwarting the political agenda endorsed by Democrats who control Congress and President Barack Obama.
Jenkins, a Topeka Republican in her first term in Congress, shared thoughts about the GOP's political future during an Aug. 19 forum at Fisher Community Center in the northeast Kansas community of Hiawatha.
In response to inquiries by The Topeka Capital-Journal, a Jenkins spokeswoman said Wednesday the congresswoman wanted to apologize for
Jenkins told people at the Hiawatha forum the nation could benefit from inspired leadership of a group of "really sharp" young Republicans in the House, particularly Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va. Cantor was mentioned as a possible GOP vice presidential candidate in 2008 and is thought to be interested in seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2012.
"Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope," Jenkins said to the crowd. "I suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington."
A videotape of the presentation contains footage of Jenkins identifying three members of the U.S. House -- Cantor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. -- as future movers and shakers in the GOP. All are white, as is Jenkins.
"So don't, you know, lose faith if you are a conservative," Jenkins said in Hiawatha.
Her comments were in response to a question by an audience member about the prospects of developing a coherent Republican policy blueprint -- perhaps something like the Contract with America released by the GOP during the 1994 election cycle. The compact was credited with broadening support for GOP candidates and producing a Republican majority in the House.
The phrase "great white hope" is frequently tied to racist attitudes permeating the United States when heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson fought in the early 1900s. Reaction to the first black man to reign as champion was intense enough to build support for a campaign to find a white fighter capable of reclaiming the title from Johnson.
Kenny Johnston, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said the statement by Jenkins was regrettable at the least.
"The congressman might have avoided this problem if she had stuck to discussing constructive solutions to the health care crisis instead of lamenting the Republican Party's search for a leader," Johnston said.
Mary Geiger, a spokeswoman for Jenkins, said the reference to a great white hope wasn't meant to denote a preference by Jenkins for politicians of a particular "race, creed or any background." Jenkins was expressing faith fellow GOP representatives in the House would be key players in returning Republicans to a leadership role in Washington, Geiger said.
"There may be some misunderstanding there when she talked about the great white hope," Geiger said. "What she meant by it is they have a bright future. They're bright lights within the party."
Democrats widened their numerical grip on the House and Senate in the 2008 elections, which also produced a victory by Obama, the first black elected president.
Geiger released the following statement on Jenkins' behalf: "There's no doubt the Republican Party has gone through some dark and challenging times in recent years, but thankfully bright young leaders have stepped up to lead the party into the future and she hopes to be a part of it. That was the intent of her comments -- nothing more and nothing less. Congresswoman Jenkins apologizes for
Jenkins wasn't available to comment personally on her presentation in Hiawatha, Geiger said.
Geiger said she had never previously heard Jenkins use the phrase "great white hope" in a political speech or private conversation.
...wait... I thought Rush Limbaugh was their "Great White Hope"...