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GOP Looks to Recruit Minority Candidates
By WILL LESTER
January 26, 2003
WASHINGTON - Republicans coming off historically successful midterm elections are intent on broadening their party's base by recruiting more minority candidates to bring a gradual change in the complexion of their party.
The most crucial task is to develop more support in the Hispanic community, where President Bush is relatively popular. In the 2002 elections, when the GOP increased its hold on the House and won the Senate, Republicans fared well among Hispanics in New York and Florida while Democrats dominated in the Southwest and West.
Beyond its control of the White House and both branches of Congress, the party will take its usual financial advantage into the next round of elections.
National GOP Chairman Marc Racicot told party members in a recent memo: "The Republican Party starts 2003 in a better political position than at any time in the last 60 years."
Still, Republican pollster Linda DiVall said she hopes the party has some strong approaches to deal with "the sheer math of the changing demographics in America."
She warned Republicans after the 1998 midterm elections that they must expand their appeal in minority communities to remain competitive. Two years later, Bush made that a priority of his campaign, then brought in Racicot to head the Republican National Committee with that as a principal goal.
The urgency of the task was reinforced with recent word that the fast-growing Hispanic population has become the nation's largest minority, surpassing blacks.
Party leaders will discuss strategy at the Republican winter meeting in Washington this week.
"Our outreach (in 2002) provided us inspiration," Racicot said in interview. "That mission is not complete.
"A certain amount of catch-up has to be done."
The party got a reminder that it has a long way to go at a recent meeting with black conservatives. One of those black conservatives, Armstrong Williams, said after the meeting: "The Republican Party has to realize that it cannot be lily white any longer."
Racicot pointed to successes in 2002 including the election of black lieutenant governors Michael Steele in Maryland and Jennette Bradley in Ohio. Michael Williams, a black Republican, was elected to head the Texas Railroad Commission.
"We need to reach further," Racicot said. "We need to recruit earlier and at every level. We want to recruit them to school boards, legislatures, county governments."
Republicans must do a better job of going into minority neighborhoods to build alliances and recruit support, which the GOP initiated in the last election cycle, he said.
The efforts suffered a setback late last year when then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi appeared to praise retiring South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond's 1948 run for president on a segregationist platform. Lott left the Senate leadership under pressure, and Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist took the post.
Republicans say Frist brings the kind of polished approach to conservative GOP politics that Bush wants.
The president's recent stand against affirmative action at the University of Michigan, however, could complicate further the GOP's efforts to win minority support. Bush said there are better tools to achieve diversity on campus than race-based quotas, which he alleged the Michigan plan used.
Republicans must support the cities' financial needs to build support in urban areas, outgoing Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris DePino said. Offering cities federal financial help could win support among minorities, he said.
Republicans are counting heavily on the continued popularity of the president. His policies on tax cuts and Iraq are facing increased skepticism, however, although support remains strong for him personally and for the administration's campaign against terror.
Racicot said in his memo to the party that Democrats are not unified behind a dominant leader. "Those who seek the Democratic nomination for president," he said, "may be more interested in their own political aspirations than a unified party message."