Building a bigger tent

The Republicans hatch a plan for reaching out to African-American voters.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 10, 2005 2:06PM (EST)

At the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting last month in Washington, Howard Dean warned DNC members that Republicans would soon be coming after the Democrats' base. Republicans have to start doing a better job of appealing to minority voters, Dean said, because the country is growing more diverse, and winning the white vote will someday not be enough. "If voting patterns continue the way they are, we're going to win," Dean told DNC members. "But if we continue to sit on our you-know-whats, we're going to lose."

The Republicans aren't sitting on anything. The GOP is announcing today the formation of a committee of African-American leaders and experts on minority voting to work up a strategy for winning over African-American voters, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The committee will include former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie; Keith Butler, a pastor from the World of Faith International Christian Center; Alphonso Jackson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Harry Alford, the president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce; and Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who was featured prominently at the Republican convention last summer.

A key part of the Republicans' plan: using gay marriage as a wedge issue to separate religiously conservative African-Americans from the Democrats for whom they usually vote.

The Republicans have already made some inroads -- albeit small ones -- among African-American voters. George W. Bush got just 9 percent of the African-American vote in 2000. He got 11 percent in 2004, and Republicans tell the Times that Bush picked up 16 percent of the African-American vote in Ohio. Still, the party of Lincoln has a long way to go -- both in attracting African-American voters and in developing African-American leaders so that they don't need to trot out poor J.C. Watts whenever they need to show off their diversity. According to the DNC, 92 of its 444 members are African-American. As of last summer, exactly two of the RNC's 165 members were black.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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