GOP Courts Blacks, Latinos

Posted February 11, 2005 at 6:38pm

Seeking to make inroads into traditional Democratic constituencies, Senate GOP leaders are working with the Republican National Committee on a targeted marketing plan designed to attract minorities to the party.

Republicans said the goal is to expand the GOP’s base in much the same way that President William McKinley did at the turn of the 20th century, when he convinced immigrants and business owners to join the party, thus helping establish GOP rule for more than 30 years.

Specifically, Republican leaders said they will focus on the black, Hispanic and Jewish communities — three demographic groups they believe are crucial to helping retain both the Congressional majority in 2006 and the White House in 2008.

“There are a large number of minorities who are in the Democratic base who do not belong there anymore,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.). “They don’t agree with the Democrats’ far-left Hollywood agenda. It doesn’t represent their values.”

The marketing campaign, which is still in its formative stages, calls for a focused outreach effort to appeal to subsets of voters in each of these communities that Republicans believe are more politically aligned with the GOP than Democrats.

“Do I believe that Hispanics should vote for Republicans? No, any more than I believe that all whites should vote for us,” Santorum said. “But there are subgroups within the Hispanic community, within the black community that I think will be much more comfortable with our ideas than the other side.”

Promoting Republican “values” to black and Hispanic voters will be a cornerstone of this strategy, including a focus on Bush’s faith-based agenda and his commitment to passing a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage, organizers said.

The GOP plans to use marriage as a “wedge issue” in the black community as well as with Catholic Hispanics to highlight the differences between Republican and Democratic priorities, said a Republican with knowledge of the plan.

In many cases, Republicans will seek to reach targeted voters by making contact through newspapers, radio and television stations that serve these respective communities. Consultants have credited a similar niche-marketing strategy with boosting President Bush’s vote totals during the 2004 presidential election.

“What Sen. Santorum and Republican leaders are trying to do is they see this opportunity, specifically with the niche marketing vehicle, to make sure we have clear communications with [people] who are more open and more likely to positively receive our message,” said David Winston, a polling adviser for Senate and House GOP leaders as well as a columnist for Roll Call.

Speaking to Senators at the Congressional Republican retreat in West Virginia last month, senior White House adviser Karl Rove spotlighted McKinley’s success and suggested that the time is right for them to follow suit.

“Karl’s point was, ‘This is our time to expand our party,’” said a Republican source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Santorum later followed up Rove’s discussion with a presentation titled “Growing the Party: Our ‘McKinley Moment.’” The Pennsylvania Senator suggested that if Republicans can clearly explain their legislative goals, he has no doubt they will convince more people to join the GOP.

In addition to targeting black, Hispanic and Jewish voters, Santorum told his colleagues that Republicans may be able to make a persuasive case to attract women over 55, mothers, independents, Catholics, young entrepreneurs and people with an income ranging from $50,000 to $75,000 who historically have voted Democratic.

“There are several opportunity constituencies which are critical to November [2006] that can be outreached to over the course of the next year to advance our agenda and grow the party,” Santorum said, according to a copy of his remarks.

In particular, the Pennsylvanian said the GOP’s goals on national security and energy policy appeal to married moms, blue-collar workers and seniors, while its “compassionate conservatism” and plans on Social Security, health care and education would be well received by married moms, blue-collar workers, Catholics, Hispanics and seniors.

While he has not yet been formally asked to play a role, freshman Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.) is expected to serve as a key Republican emissary to Hispanics. Already, Martinez is helping his colleagues who are up for re-election in 2006. The Florida Republican, who emigrated from Cuba as a teenager through a Catholic humanitarian program, was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for Sen. Jon Kyl (R) in Arizona this past weekend.

Martinez said he saw “a big commitment to broaden the base of the party” during Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and noted that it is “very important in the long term” for the GOP to continue reaching out to the fast-growing Hispanic community.

While staffers iron out the details of the outreach effort, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman has already begun meeting with community leaders to discuss how the GOP agenda is “empowering people of color.” Last week, Mehlman joined Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) at a forum attended by 200 people in Prince George’s County.

“This really kick-started an ongoing conversation with these communities that will take place throughout the year in a number of states across the country,” said Tara Wall, the RNC’s director of outreach communications.

But Democrats charge that Republican policies are actually hurting minority communities, and they pointed to Bush’s budget as one example.

Jim Manley, a senior aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said Democrats already have an “aggressive operation designed to meet the needs of the specialty media throughout the country to reach the voters of these different constituencies.”

“Democrats are not going to concede any ground,” Manley added. “The Democratic Party is all inclusive and is as rich and diverse as this country.”