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Display Over, GOP Faces True Test of Its Diversity

Republicans: Electing more minorities and women to Congress is now a key challenge for the party.


PHILADELPHIA — It was easy for Republican leaders to put women and minorities onstage for the television audience during this week's national convention. Now comes the hard part: giving the party a more diverse face where it really counts, on Capitol Hill.

The numbers are telling. Of 277 Republicans in the House and Senate, only 20 are women. Four are Latino, one African American and one Native American. None is Asian American.

GOP strategists say they hope this year to make a few gains. Indeed, two of the party's stronger House candidates are black women: Joan B. Johnson in New York and Jennifer Carroll in Florida.

But even in an optimistic scenario for the November election, the party would add only three or four women, one or two Latinos and one or two black lawmakers to their ranks in Washington.

"You don't change the world overnight," conceded Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. He sizes up this year as a "status-quo election" for Congress, in which the two major parties battle over a few dozen seats as Republicans defend slim majorities in the House and the Senate.

Democrats, who historically have wielded great power among racial and ethnic minority communities, count 56 House members and senators among their ranks who are black, Latino or Asian American. And in the two chambers, 48 Democratic lawmakers are women.

But Republicans say they are starting to make inroads as their presidential nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, crafts a message of inclusion.

To drive the point home, the GOP convention featured three marquee players: Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, the sole African American Republican in Congress; Rep. Henry Bonilla of Texas, a Mexican American; and Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington. The trio took turns with the gavel as convention deputy co-chairs, giving them significantly more camera time than several more influential GOP lawmakers.

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