It is not easy to win over African-American voters to the Republican Party, says Felice Pete, a Raleigh, N.C., activist who is trying to do just that. Of the 6.6 million registered voters in the state, only about 35,000 are black Republicans. In fact, Pete says, “It’s just so hard to recruit a black Republican, I just had me a black baby, and I’m raising him Republican.”
Now Reagan Douglass Pete, age 2 1/2, goes along with his mother as she tries to engage black voters with the GOP cause. A former chair of the Wake County Republican Women’s Club, Pete is one of a small cadre deployed in the Republican party’s efforts, mapped out after their losses in 2012, to broaden the appeal of the party to demographic groups it had overwhelmingly lost.
The first step may not even be garnering votes but just gathering names. “The main focus on the staff is to go out and introduce themselves to the (black) community, build relationships with the community and identify who are Republican, leaning Republican, conservatives, (or) independents but lean Republican,” says Kristal Quarker Hartsfield, national director of African-American initiatives for the Republican National Committee.
In the 11 states where the GOP has hired directors for African-American voter engagement, there are specific targets for the number of contacts and voter identifications, not to mention vote goals.
“You start with the engagement, you build the trust, and you ask for their vote,” says Tara Wall, the RNC’s senior adviser for black media. “Eventually you will see the fruits of that.”
In North Carolina, Pete gave a “barbershop talk” in Charlotte this month. That’s not a marketing title — it was held at The Cutting Room, a barbershop, and was arranged by Earl Phillips, one of three RNC staff working on black voter engagement in the state.
“I got some good responses. The most liberal of them in the room were able to reason about government influence in their lives,” Pete says. “Conversation went the gamut, but freedom resonates with people.”
In Michigan, Wayne Bradley, a former talk-radio host, does his work from a Detroit office opened with fanfare last fall by Chairman Reince Priebus and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Bradley has met with local pastors and attended Bible study groups. He hosted a roundtable with the black Chamber of Commerce. On Saturdays, he goes to Dixon Barbershop to talk up the GOP and its policies.
“I definitely think there will be a difference, and when you’re starting from where we’re at, you can only go up,” Bradley says.
The first group of black voters to be won over by the RNC effort were black Republicans who had heard such promises before — like Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of State, now a member of the party’s advisory committee on African-American outreach. He has just helped launch Black Conservative Fund, a political action committee created to back African-American Republicans.
Source: USA Today | Martha T. Moore