Republicans Falter in Outreach to Blacks, Hispanics

Jonathan Kaufman, Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2008

Blacks are scarce here at the Republican National Convention.

Of the more than 2,300 Republican delegates who gathered this week, just 36—or 1.5%—were black, the lowest portion in 40 years, according to a study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think tank that focuses on black issues.

That is substantially below the figure in 2004, when a record-setting 6.8% of Republican delegates were black.

The number of black Republican candidates running for federal office also has fallen sharply, to about seven from a high of 24 in 1996, according to the study. On an organizational level, just one of the more than 160 members of the Republican National Committee is black, the joint center says.

Officials and delegates here said the figures seem accurate. The Republican National Committee said 13% of registered delegates have identified themselves as belonging to an ethnic minority group, which would include Asians, Hispanics and others, along with blacks. About 24% of the delegates to the Democratic convention last week were black, a record, according to the study. The Democrats have policies to ensure that their delegates reflect the “diversity” of the party, a Democratic representative said.

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Among the reasons cited by black Republicans and others: a failure to address issues such as inner-city poverty and crime as well as a failure to recruit and develop strong black candidates

The enthusiasm among blacks for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is a complicating factor. “This is a different year for us—many of us come to the race with mixed emotions,” said Michael Williams, a black Republican who is chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. “I and many black Republicans share the sense of pride that many blacks have with Sen. Obama’s success. But we have significant differences with him in terms of foreign policy and our worldview.”

Republican outreach to Hispanics is stumbling as well. President George W. Bush won 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004. While Hispanics generally preferred Hillary Clinton to Sen. Obama during the Democratic primaries, Sen. Obama leads his Republican rival, John McCain, among Hispanics by a 2-to-1 margin in the latest Gallup poll, largely due to anger among Hispanics over Republicans’ tough line on illegal immigration.

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This year, no nationally prominent black Republican will speak at the Republican convention, though Mr. Williams [Michael Williams, a black chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission] and Mr. Steele [Michael Steele, black former lieutenant governor of Maryland] spoke Wednesday night.

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