clarence-mckee_web.jpgrick_santorum.jpegNine days before Florida’s Jan. 31 primary, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum spoke to a Pompano Beach congregation, fulfilling a goal the Rev. O'Neal Dozier says all presidential candidates should meet: “talking to the black community and letting them know you want their vote.”

Santorum, one of four remaining candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, launched his Florida pre-primary campaign at Dozier’s church, the predominantly black Worldwide Christian Center.

“The beauty is that it is in the heart of the black community, in Collier City, Pompano,” Dozier said of the predominantly African-American neighborhood founded in 1951 and annexed by Pompano Beach in the 1990s.

Speaking at the 11 a.m. “Sanctity of Life” service, Santorum espoused the importance of Christian values not only for congregations but for candidates.

For Dozier, a sometimes controversial and outspoken Christian conservative and Tea Party member, Santorum’s message was as good as any Sunday gospel gets.

“Every true born-again Christian needs to be voting for someone like Rick Santorum,” said Dozier, who endorsed Santorum about two weeks ago.

In a December straw poll, the state was leaning toward former restaurant executive and talk show host Herman Cain, the black GOP presidential contender who later dropped out of the race following several allegations of sexual misconduct and a longterm extramarital affair.

Other GOP candidates on the Florida primary ballot are former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who is in first place after trouncing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary.  Although he is yet to win first place in the GOP presidential contest, Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul also is in the running in Florida.

The Florida primary winner will take 50 delegates — more than Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina combined — to the Republican Party convention, which will be held in August in Tampa. Most polls see Romney winning the Sunshine State.

Clarence McKee, a member of the Broward County Republican Party Executive Committee, said there are about 8,000 black Republicans in Broward County and between 57,000 and 58,000 throughout the state.

He said he has not yet made a decision whom he will endorse and he encourages blacks to be vocal during the campaign season.

“Blacks need to have their voices heard in both political parties and not put all of their eggs in one basket,” said McKee, a government and political relations consultant.

The point was reiterated

Monday at the Conservative Black Forum sponsored by U.S. House Rep. Allen West, R-Fla. At the Capitol Hill gathering, former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts said black “strategists” are needed to keep candidates from making racially insensitive remarks. He endorsed Gingrich last month.

Gingrich and the other three candidates have all made campaign comments that have drawn criticism throughout black America.

Gingrich recently described President Barack Obama as “the most successful food stamp president in American history” and he offered to attend the NAACP’s July convention to talk about why African Americans “should demand paychecks instead of food stamps.”

Romney has said the president wants to create an “entitlement society” in America.

Santorum on the campaign trail in Iowa said, “I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money.” He later said he didn't mean to say black people, just people.

Paul has been associated with a series of racially charged newsletters in the 1980s and 1990s published in his name.

“It’s clear the Republican candidates have not embraced African Americans,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the NAACP’s Florida State Conference and a member of the organization’s national board of directors.

Nweze said she agrees that blacks should be paying careful attention.

“People ask me why do I watch the Republican debates. I watch because the candidates are telling us what they stand for and what they will do as president,” Nweze said. “We need to know this.”

Photo: Clarence McKee