The Republican National Committee is holding its spring meeting in Hollywood… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)
Republican leaders on Thursday focused on one of the most pressing challenges the party faces as it strives to retake the White House in 2016 — its deep and persistent unpopularity among crucial voting groups, such as Latinos and single women.
Speaker after speaker told members of the Republican National Committee, meeting in Hollywood, that the party and its candidates needed to be part of those communities not just when elections near, that they needed to highlight areas of shared interest and that they must promote minority and women candidates among their ranks.
"There's a perception that the party's out of touch," said Ruben Barrales, president of GROW Elect, which has helped elect 33 Latino Republicans to local office in California since late 2011. "We need to include Latinos and women and other minorities, ethnic groups, into the party. We need to support them for office within the party and public office. And we need to be in the community to show what we can do to make life better."
Barrales was among several minority leaders who spoke to 168 Republican National Committee members and others at workshops and a town-hall-style meeting Thursday, the second day of the RNC's four-day spring session. The gatherings were closed to the public so that participants could speak freely, organizers said.
Harmeet Dhillon, the California Republican Party's new vice chairman, said she told committee members that having minorities and women in leadership positions is key because that gives Republicans respected messengers.
"It's not enough to just grab people who happen to be Indian from the street and bring them on stage and stage a photograph," said Dhillon, an Indian American and a Sikh. "It has to be genuine."
Micah Grant, an African American and GOP operative who spoke about ethnic media, said the party must acknowledge failures of the past as well as opportunities in the future.
The party, he said, should also highlight issues like education reform in which its views are shared by voters who seldom side with Republicans. African Americans, for example, tend to support school choice and parent-trigger laws that allow parents to force the shake-up of underperforming schools.
"Republicans weren't there to say, 'Hey, listen, we're standing right next to you,'" Grant said, adding that the party has a messenger problem. "No one in the Republican Party looks like me, walks like me."
The demographic divide is among the greatest challenges facing the party. Latino voters will be 29% of the national electorate in 2050, nearly three times their current strength. Nearly 3 out of 4 Latino voters supported President Obama in November. African American and Asian American voters also sharply favored the Democrat.
The party has pledged for years to build closer relationships with Latinos and other minorities, to little effect. The statements Thursday also mirrored strategies that California Republicans have long espoused. But Democrats said GOP efforts had proved futile — no Republican candidate has been elected to statewide office since 2006, and the party's voter registration percentage is at a historic low.
"We're glad to hear our Republican counterparts have discovered they need to appeal to all Americans and not just a narrow slice of the electorate," said Tenoch Flores, a spokesman for the California Democratic Party, which rolled out a first-in-the-nation Chinese-language party website Thursday. "The bad news for them is Democrats are generations ahead and our values and initiatives continue to win out at the ballot box."
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus says that this time will be different. He has pledged to spend $10 million building a ground operation in communities where the GOP has been lagging, making the party more nimble in addressing misperceptions about its candidates' views or preventing some of the most strident voices within the party from shaping the narrative on issues like illegal immigration.
"It's all talk until you see action," Priebus said in an interview, acknowledging that party leaders had made the same promises before. "My point would be, the difference now is that, No. 1, we're out of debt, we have money, we're committed to doing it."
Priebus pointed to the hiring of national, political and communications directors for the Latino and Asian American communities as well as the decision to hold this week's meeting in Hollywood.
"We're committed to not living in a world of red states and blue states, and we need to fight for every vote," he said.