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GOP Launches Drive to Attract Minority Voters

Politics: Newly unveiled council of business and community leaders is intended as an alternative to traditional government social programs.

September 17, 1997|ROBERT SHOGAN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

WASHINGTON — Counting on growing disillusionment with traditional government social programs even among their intended beneficiaries, Republican leaders on Tuesday launched their latest effort to broaden the GOP's appeal to minority voters.

"The failure of the old order is so much clearer," House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said at a news conference in arguing that the party's newly unveiled New Majority Council stands a better chance of attracting minority support than similar endeavors in the past. "I think it's very hard for anyone to go into [minority] communities anymore and say public housing has worked and your schools are terrific," Gingrich said.

The council, consisting of minority business and community leaders as well as politicians, is envisioned as the vehicle for getting the Republican message out to African American, Latino and Asian voters. It also will seek to recruit minority candidates.

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GOP strategists contend they side with minority voters on a number of issues, in particular school choice--the idea of giving parents public funds to help pay tuition at private schools.

"Fifty-seven percent of black people in this country say they support this," Republican National Chairman Jim Nicholson said. "And it's something the Democratic Party can't support because they are too beholden to the labor bosses," he added, referring to Democratic ties to teacher unions that view such financial support for private schools as threatening the jobs of their members.

Earlier, in a speech in which he heralded the birth of "a new civil rights movement," Nicholson summed up what he said was the Democratic message to minorities: "You will always be victims. But give us your allegiance, your voters and your money, and we will take care of you in your victimhood. We will make you more comfortable victims."

But the GOP's appeal is sure to be met with some skepticism, given the failure of the party's past efforts.

When then-GOP National Chairman Lee Atwater launched Operation Outreach in 1989, his goal was to capture about 20% of the black vote--roughly double the total Republican presidential nominee George Bush received in 1988 against Democrat Michael S. Dukakis.

Atwater counted heavily on upwardly mobile blacks. But running for reelection in tough economic times in 1992, Bush made no significant gain in black support. Nor did the 1996 Republican nominee, Bob Dole.

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Most Republican candidates have trouble getting as much as 15% of the black vote, said David Bositis, senior analyst for the Joint Center of Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

Of 550 black state legislators, only 50 are Republicans, said Bositis.

Bositis said he sought to encourage the GOP in their effort because he agrees with many minority leaders who complain that Democrats tend to take their support for granted.

"But establishing trust is something that takes a long time," he cautioned. He pointed to last year's election results, which indicated that Republicans lost ground with Latino voters because of GOP support of welfare reform, immigration restrictions and "English only" legislation.

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