NAACP Leader: Republicans Can Win Black Votes by Focusing on Issues

Benjamin Todd Jealous said that Republicans should embrace civil rights issues, including prison reform.

Posted: 04/25/2013 03:24 PM EDT

The Republican Party will make inroads to the nation’s Black voters only after it adopts policies that embrace a progressive civil rights agenda, the head of the NAACP said.

In a piece carried by CNN, Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president and chief executive of the nation’s oldest civil rights group, said that Republicans could win a larger following of African-Americans if they would take on such as issues as criminal justice reform.

In particular, he cited the effort of Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican of Kentucky, to make the case for Republicans by speaking to students at Howard University. However, Jealous said it will take far more than speaking engagements at historically Black colleges to win the loyalty of African-American voters.

“Republicans will not win black votes by paying lip service to party history while attacking social programs and voting rights,” Jealous said. “But they can make inroads by showing a commitment to civil rights.”

He also described Paul’s attempt at Republican outreach at Howard as “largely a swing and a miss.” The Kentucky senator, Jealous said, “struck out when he tried to equate today's Republican Party with the party of Abraham Lincoln, while ignoring much of the 150 years in between.”

Jealous said that the NAACP conducted a nonpartisan survey of African-American voters in key battleground states just before last year’s presidential election and discovered that 55 percent of the respondents said they believed that the Republican Party was unconcerned about them. Additionally, roughly a third of the respondents said they viewed Republican outreach as an effort to tell minority voters what they want to hear.

He added 14 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a Republican in the future if they found a candidate who demonstrated a strong commitment to civil rights.

The NAACP leader also advised Republicans to take on the issue of incarceration of African-Americans, calling it “a fundamental civil rights issue.”

He stated: “African-Americans make up 40 percent of the 2.4 million people in America's bloated prison system. That includes the vast majority of those in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his life.”

The Republican Party, Jealous said, would be wise to move from "tough on crime to smart on crime,” adding that doing so “would be good for this country. It would also be a smart move for the Republican Party if they ever hope to get on base with Black voters.”

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(Photo: Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

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