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The Associated Press

GOP Reaches Out To Hispanics, Catholics

April 19 2001
Copyright © 2001 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Republicans are expanding efforts to reach out to ethnic and religious groups by creating a new division of the Republican National Committee to work to build the party's base. The emphasis is on Hispanics and Roman Catholics.

Party chairman Jim Gilmore wrote a letter to groups affiliated with the national party that had the role of expanding its sweep to announce the party's increased ethnic and religious focus, party officials said Wednesday.

In the letter, Gilmore told the loosely affiliated groups they had to leave committee-supplied offices by mid-June, to be replaced by a dozen people in a new "grass-roots development team" controlled by party leaders.

By creating a division dedicated entirely to ethnic and religious outreach, Gilmore signaled his intent to make progress in an area Republicans consider crucial to their future political health.

Gilmore had already pledged aggressive work by the national party to expand GOP efforts in black and Hispanic communities. The Bush administration is pressing for more efforts to win over Catholics.

All three have traditionally been more closely associated with the Democratic Party. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore essentially split the Catholic vote in 2000, after candidate Bill Clinton won it by a handy 9 percentage points in 1992 and President Clinton by 16 percentage points in 1996.

"If the Republican Party is to succeed in the future, we must double our efforts in attracting more people," said the letter from Gilmore and RNC co-chairwoman Anne Wagner.

"Retaining the White House and the majorities we now hold in the Congress, governors' offices and the statehouses across America demands that our party extend its reach into every diverse community in America," Gilmore said.

The new priorities were clear with two early events aimed at recruiting people to go out and drum up support for the party within their specific groups. A Hispanic event was held Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., and a Catholic one is scheduled in coming weeks in Pittsburgh.

The Republican National Committee has set up a Catholic Task Force, Bush has met with top Catholic officials in recent weeks and his staff has instituted weekly conference calls with an informal group of Catholic advisers.

"Any effort as big as this needs a structure and a headquarters," said Ana Gamonol, deputy director of the new division. "Governor Gilmore has provided us both."

Gamonol said Republicans would continue to work closely with the allied groups, such as the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

Gilmore has admitted the Republican Party has not effectively courted minorities, especially blacks, although it tries every election cycle. This time, the intensive efforts will start in an off-year rather than waiting closer to an election.

In his letter telling the organizations that they must vacate their RNC-leased offices, he reminded them that future contributions will be "based on the same fundamental criterion that it uses in deciding whether to contribute to other Republican organizations ... namely the political effectiveness of the organization."

Gore beat Bush by a 9-1 margin among blacks in the 2000 election and beat him by a 2-1 margin among Hispanics. Republicans have been encouraged by Bush's performance among Hispanics in 2000; his 35 percent was 14 points better than candidate Bob Dole got four years earlier.

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