YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


GOP to Show a New Face to Minorities

More delegates will be black and Latino, but Bush's record may be a hindrance.

August 29, 2004|Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Hoping to capture more of the black and Latino votes that could prove crucial in November, GOP leaders plan to use this week's Republican National Convention to impart a message of ethnic diversity.

For one thing, they have worked hard to change the backdrop that television viewers will see when they tune in to the convention.

A record 16% of the 5,000 delegates will be members of minority groups, and 44% will be women -- a 70% increase in the diversity of delegates from 2000 and the most varied crowd of delegates in GOP history. Republican leaders call it a "milestone achievement in our party's connection with American minorities."

Republican leaders also plan to portray President Bush as a man who has advanced the interests of minorities by deeds, not words -- highlighting his faith-based initiatives to help the disadvantaged, his No Child Left Behind education policy, the acceleration of minority homeownership on his watch and his support for historically black and Latino colleges.

They will also point to the diversity of his top advisors, among them Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, Education Secretary Rod Paige, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson.

"Our government has a very diverse face, a diverse presence," said Terry Holt, spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Far from conceding the minority vote to Democrats -- in 2000, Al Gore won 90% of the black vote and 67% of the Latino vote -- the GOP will promote all of Bush's policies as beneficial to minorities, Holt said, including the war on terrorism, tax cuts and healthcare reform.

"It's not just political rhetoric," he said. "President Bush has led by example."

But in reaching out to minority voters, Bush and his party go to New York facing challenges.

Four years ago at the Republican convention in Philadelphia, there were so many blacks, Latinos and women on stage -- and so few in the audience -- that political observers quipped that the scene resembled an NBA game. This year, Powell, who remains the most popular official in the Cabinet among Americans of all races, has taken himself off the podium, citing the tradition that secretaries of State avoid partisan politics.

In his place are some would-be stars -- Paige, Rep. Henry Bonilla of Texas, Miss America 2003 Erika Harold, who is African American, as well as Michael S. Steele, lieutenant governor of one of the most Democratic states in the union, Maryland.

The president's nephew, George P. Bush, also is expected to address the convention. He is half-Latino.

Party leaders hope Steele, although little-known, will wow his audience much as Barak Obama, the Illinois state senator who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, did at the Democratic convention. And the 45-year-old Steele, who got his start in politics licking stamps, might deliver.

"We just don't talk about hope, we put hope into action," Steele said in a preview of his speech. Steele said he expected the GOP's emphasis on economic empowerment to shift the parties' alignment in his lifetime.

"The fight for the lunch counter is over," he said. "Now the fight is over ownership of the lunch counter. America can afford more than one Oprah Winfrey."

If the Republicans' convention lineup is thin on proven political star power, their bid for minority votes is further hindered by the animosity that some of Bush's policies and decisions have stirred up in black and Latino communities.

Members of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, already angered by some Bush judicial appointments, felt snubbed when he declined an invitation to speak to the group last month after NAACP head Kweisi Mfume accused Bush of wanting to "take blacks back to the days of Jim Crow."

Many Latinos question Bush's no-citizenship program for illegal immigrants, and stricter rules on travel to Cuba are dividing the Cuban American vote in Florida.

With 7 million to 8 million Latinos expected to vote in the presidential election this year -- up from about 6 million in 2000 -- the group constitutes a potent political force. Unlike blacks, who tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, the Latino vote is more divided.

Jorge Ramos, anchorman for Spanish-language "Noticiero Univision" and author of a recent book on Latino political influence, "The Latino Wave," said his ethnic bloc could be decisive in five swing states -- Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.

"Since Ronald Reagan, every Republican candidate who gets 30% of the Hispanic vote wins the White House," Ramos said.

RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie said his party -- and his candidate -- would compete for every vote. "We're looking to increase our share of the vote everywhere. If we can increase our share of the minority vote, that would be very helpful."

For his part, when Bush discussed race relations in a July speech to the Urban League, he won applause with a series of rhetorical questions.

"Does the status quo in education really, really help the children of this country?" he asked. "Has class warfare or higher taxes ever created decent jobs in the inner city? Are you satisfied with the same answers on crime, excuses for drugs and blindness to the problem of the family?"

Republicans gathering in New York plan to pose them again. "The president's policies and agenda will resonate with voters no matter where they live and what they look like," Holt said. "Our job is to aggressively communicate that to people. They don't hear it as much as we would like."

Los Angeles Times Articles