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The Erie County GOP’s pretense of a “big tent” is officially over.

Sure, some Republican faithful here have long complained that when it comes to reaching out to minorities, they get hamstrung by the party’s national reputation for intolerance.

But with the local party’s backing of former WBEN hatemonger Kathy Weppner for Congress, it’s clear there is no longer any distinction.

African-Americans, Muslims, gays, immigrants and other marginalized groups would have a hard time embracing a GOP whose county leader, while not agreeing with all of Weppner’s statements, insists she will “represent the values of the Republican Party.”

That’s the same Weppner who The Buffalo News revealed has been a proponent of the “birther” nonsense against President Obama. It’s the same Weppner who reposted an essay lambasting “lazy black people” for dropping out, having babies and refusing to work while swilling Colt 45 and watching Oprah. It’s the Weppner whose blog has posts equating Islam with genocide and who advises immigrants to “go home” if they really want to reunite with family members.

Are those really the values of the Republican Party?

I thought local GOP Chairman Nicholas Langworthy might have second thoughts after The News’ revelations about his candidate. But he had nothing official to say other than to reiterate his backing.

Granted, incumbent Rep. Brian Higgins would be an overwhelming favorite no matter who Republicans run in the Democratic district. But that’s all the more reason not to soil the party’s brand. If you are going to lose anyway, why not reach out to nontraditional constituencies and try to broaden the GOP base for other elections?

Higgins, for instance, has been a big factor in much of the construction going on downtown and on the waterfront. Yet blacks still complain about not being able to get work. That is fertile ground for a GOP that believes in equal opportunity through the marketplace. But not when your candidate is former radio host “Kathy from Williamsville” spouting nonsense about blacks, immigrants and other groups Republicans need to court in a changing electorate.

The charitable view ascribes such missteps to tone-deafness. But that becomes harder to swallow when it happens time after time, and when groups like the local Republicans of Color have warned party leaders.

The more cynical view says party strategy is to cultivate Weppner fans and similar constituents by insulting the folks those voters love to stereotype.

Either way, one disturbing aspect is that the GOP’s divisiveness is being fomented by some of its youngest members. The hope once was that bigotry would die out as its older practitioners die off and that new generations would yield a more tolerant society.

Yet nationally and locally, it’s the younger GOP firebrands – Langworthy is 33 – who seem most wedded to the past.

Imagine the statement the party would have made if he had said that, no matter Weppner’s stand on taxes and regulation, he couldn’t back someone with her other baggage.

Imagine the impact on voters tired of being taken for granted by Democrats.

Instead, he told those voters something else.

email: rwatson@buffnews.com