TAMPA — Just days before Americans vote in an election with the first black presidential nominee, the head of the Hillsborough County Republican Party sent an e-mail warning members of "the threat" of "carloads of black Obama supporters coming from the inner city to cast their votes."
The e-mail, sent Wednesday, prompted charges of racism from local GOP members and a call for David Storck, chairman of the Hillsborough Republican Party, to resign.
By Thursday afternoon, it brought condemnation from state party leaders and John McCain's campaign.
The e-mail, written in all capital letters by volunteer Ron Whitley, 72, was forwarded by Storck to about 400 party members.
It begins with the words "The Threat," and, referring to an early voting site in Temple Terrace, reads in part: "I see carloads of black Obama supporters coming from the inner city to cast their votes for Obama. This is their chance to get a black president and they seem to care little that he is at minimum, socialist, and probably Marxist in his core beliefs. After all, he is black — no experience or accomplishments — but he is black."
Near the end of the e-mail, Whitley writes: "There is only one way to stop Obama: Vote!!!"
Storck prefaced his forwarding of the e-mail by saying: "If you think it can help us win this election, please pass it on."
Curtis Stokes, a member of the Hillsborough County GOP and president of the Hillsborough chapter of the NAACP, called the e-mail racist.
"They're trying to get John McCain elected by putting fear in the minds of white people. You know, 'Do you really want to be governed by a black guy?' " Stokes said. "David Storck's not a good representative of the Republican Party if that's what he's sending out. He needs to resign."
The state Republican Party blasted the e-mail.
"The Republican Party of Florida strongly condemns this hateful rhetoric, which is not in any way representative of Florida Republicans," said state party spokeswoman Katherine Gordon.
The McCain campaign also rejected the tactic.
"John McCain has been very clear from the beginning that he rejects the type of politics that degrades our civics. This type of divisive rhetoric has no place in this election. The issues and policy differences between the two candidates are too great and our challenges many," said campaign spokesman Mario Diaz.
Storck, who owns a nursery in east Hillsborough County, initially defended the e-mail.
"This is an elderly gentleman, and he was simply making a comment that there are carloads of people being brought from the inner city to vote, and we need to get off our butts and vote, too," he said.
Whitley could not be reached for comment Thursday.
It was supposed to be an internal e-mail, Storck said, and someone releasing it to the media was an attempt to "sabotage the Republican Party."
Later, however, Storck said he did not endorse the statement. Thursday afternoon, he sent a followup e-mail offering his "sincere apology."
"I believe in a strong and diverse Republican Party and that everyone should exercise their right to vote and support the candidate which reflects their values," he wrote.
Hillsborough Republican Party member April Schiff said when she received the first e-mail from Storck she was stunned.
"My initial reaction was, 'Oh, my God, why are we doing this?' " she said. "I understand volunteers and that people do things when they get emotionally involved in these elections. There's no reason to spread it around."
Joe Robinson, a black Republican, said such views are the reason he resigned from the local party, but are not surprising in a county that recently made national news because of a giant Confederate flag erected on private property.
"Hillsborough County's got some racist attitudes," he said.
Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.