Republican National Convention
Monday, July 31, 2000

Ohio's delegation has racial diversity GOP seeks




By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHILADELPHIA — Tonight, from the podium of the First Union Center, speakers at the Republican National Convention will talk the talk of reaching out to the minority voters who are changing the face of America.

        The Ohio delegation, in the meantime, will be walking the walk.

        Seated on the arena floor right in front of the podium will be an Ohio delegation that will be the most racially diverse of the convention.

        “We are pretty proud of it,” said Gary Abernathy, the state party's communications director. “It's a more diverse group of people than we have ever had before.

        With 20 African-American delegates and alternates and a half dozen Latino Republi- cans, the Ohio delegation could end up as Exhibit A at a convention where much of the focus will be on winning support for George W. Bush and the rest of the GOP ticket from voters who party people refer to as "nontraditional” Republican voters.

        Nearly nine out of every 10 African-American voters has voted for the Democratic candidate in recent presidential elections. The numbers for Latino voters are nearly as high.

        But in 2000 the Republicans are running a presidential candidate who has a record in two Texas elections of grabbing a sizable number of those votes.

        Mr. Bush is well-positioned to increase the Republican Party's share of minority voters, said Tawana Keels Simons, a Princeton school board member who is an alternate delegate.

        “When he talks about faith, family and the defense of our country, it translates well for all voters, regardless if they are black or white,” Ms. Simons said.

        Republican Party leaders, from Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson down to the ward chairs in such cities as Cincinnati and Cleveland, understand that with the black and Hispanic populations growing, the GOP's only chance of being a majority party in the 21st century is to attract more minority voters.

        That is why Mr. Nicholson and other high-ranking party officials attended a “New Majority” conference here Saturday night with about 300 minority delegates and state party leaders.

        Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a former Cincinnati mayor, was the keynote speaker. The theme of opening the doors of the party to blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans will be continued at the convention ses sion tonight.

        “It is a question of showing minority voters that we are on their side,” Mr. Blackwell said Sunday. “We have to be on the side of black children and Latinos who are locked into dysfunctional schools, or parents who are struggling for opportunities.”

        J.C. Watts, the Oklahoma congressman who is the only African-American Republican in the U.S. House, told a joint meeting of delegates from Ohio and his home state Sunday that the party can make an impression on minority voters.

        “What we have to make people understand is that, since the Republicans have been in control in Congress, we have redefined compassion,” Mr. Watts said.

        “Unlike the Democrats, we don't define compassion by how many people are on food stamps, on welfare or living in public housing,” Mr. Watts said. “We define it by how few people are on food stamps or welfare or in public housing. Opportunity is what we are about.”

        In the Ohio Republican Party, the effort to recruit minority voters has come through a program called “Campaign America.”

        The party plans to open an office in a racially diverse Columbus neighborhood for the campaign season, with party volunteers organizing voters in minority communities.

        “In Ohio, we try to get the word out that this party is not just a bunch of white men,” said former state Sen. Janet Howard of Forest Park. “The door has always been open to all in the Republican Party. But people just haven't come in yet.”

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