Can the GOP Win Over African-American Voters?

The party's biggest challenge may be demonstrating how its policies benefit Blacks.

Posted: 06/19/2013 08:00 AM EDT

Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part feature on the Republican National Committee's Black voter outreach effort. You can read Part 2 here.

Amani Council has no illusions about the herculean nature of the task before her. Charged with heading up communications for the Republican National Committee's African-American outreach effort, she's not expecting any miracles during the 2014 mid-term elections, but she does hope to make some serious inroads with Black voters in time for the presidential election in 2016.

After President Obama "killed" Republican rival Mitt Romney at the polls last fall, the Republican Party conducted an "autopsy" of the election to try to figure out how it lost, particularly in such a pessimistic economy. But should it have taken a 100-page report to realize that national elections cannot be won without the support of ethnic minorities?

For the first time ever, Black voter turnout in 2012 exceeded that of all other demographic groups. Much of their enthusiasm was undoubtedly tied to Obama. With him out of the running, the Republican leaders hope African-Americans will be more open to their message.

"Our community has not heard from the Republican Party in a very long time. Building trust is a challenge if the message is not authentic and one the community can relate to," Council told BET.com. "We make no qualms about understanding and saying we haven’t done it right in the past and are now putting practices into place to get it right. One means for doing so is hiring people in communities who look like the people we are talking to. We will keep showing up, and will earn the vote our party deserves."

Washington, D.C. consultant Huey Newsome says the Republican Party's relationship with African-Americans cannot be one-sided. The GOP has to truly commit itself to opening up a dialogue and engaging the community and African-Americans must be willing to hear the other side.

"It's all about empowerment, self-accountability. It really is a discussion about what policies are you supporting that's going to improve the community versus adapting to an untrue belief that you can't perform at the same level of other ethnicities," Newsome said. "We don't need policies that help us adapt to the gaps [that exist], but those that allow us to get to par or exceed par with other ethnicities."

Maryland pastor Daryl Williams, who is more of a conservative independent, agrees that the GOP has to do a better job of explaining how its policies benefit African-Americans.

"The question is: Can you explain to African-Americans why the GOP's world view is in their interest? It's not necessarily changing policies, but having a constructive conversation about why your policies are right," he said. "If you believe that your policies are right, then you should be able to make a case for them."

According to Council, the messaging will focus on issues that are relevant to the Black community, such as education, jobs and the unemployment rate.

"We're going to show how the Republican Party platform supports pro-economic growth policies. We will find common ground and start a dialogue," she said. "We want the vote and will work to earn it."

NAACP's Washington bureau chief Hilary Shelton suspects the party's policies could be its biggest obstacle.

Its stand on school choice, an issue on which Republicans frequently say African-Americans agree with them, he said, is misleading because instead of enabling kids to attend top-notch private schools, it more frequently strips much-needed resources from financially strapped public school systems.

Congressional Republicans' position on student interest loan rates could make it more difficult for African-Americans to finance their college educations. And, he added, Blacks have suffered higher home foreclosure rates than any other demographic in the country.

"The devil is in the details," Shelton said. "The question and the bottom line always is what does any political party have to offer that will solve our problems."

In November, the NAACP in an exit poll asked Black voters if they would consider voting for a Republican candidate if the issues were right.

"The vast majority said absolutely. We're driven by the issues; not necessarily the insignia of a political party, but are you sensitive to the concerns of my community and my family," Shelton said. "The proof will be in the agenda."

 
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(Photo: Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

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