CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Glenn McCall is one face of the challenges – and opportunities – facing the Republican Party.
A former Charlotte banker from Rock Hill, he’s one of just three African-Americans on the 168-member Republican National Committee.
He’s also one of five leaders of an RNC effort to chart the party’s future and find ways to broaden its appeal to minorities.
“We can’t continue to win elections if we’re giving up such a large number (of votes) to the other party,” McCall said.
He and other members of the party’s Growth and Opportunity Project spoke to reporters Thursday as the RNC continued its winter meeting at the Westin hotel. For a party that lost the White House and congressional seats in November, the meeting has brought an unusual amount of soul-searching.
Thursday night, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told the committee that they “must reject the notion that demography is destiny.” And on Friday, party chairman Reince Priebus is expected to say the GOP should compete not just in battleground states but across the country, “building relationships with communities we haven’t before.”
Republicans may have little choice.
As the color of America changes, they’ve watched Democrats run up their numbers among black, brown and Asian voters. That’s an electorate key in states such as Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, each with surging minority populations.
Republican Mitt Romney won 59 percent of white voters in November. But Democrat Barack Obama captured 93 percent of African-Americans, 71 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Asian-Americans.
One study showed that non-white voters made up 28 percent of the electorate, compared to 20 percent in 2000. And that percentage is growing. Last summer, former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida told New York magazine that even the staunchly Republican state of Texas could go Democratic in four years.
“The demographic changes in America are real, and they’re a wake-up call for the Republican Party,” former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday in Charlotte.
“The demographic changes in America are all changes in the Democratic direction.”
Changing the party’s image
In a memo to Priebus, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, “Too many Republicans underestimate the scale of the threat we face.”
He said the party has “atrophied in urban America,” while demographic and cultural changes “could turn America into a national version of Chicago or California.”
Some Republicans say the party’s a victim of a bad image, caused in part by a hostile media.
“I’m concerned that … the perception of the party is that it’s racist and all kinds of foolishness,” said Ada Fisher, a Salisbury physician and one of the RNC’s three African-Americans. “That’s just not who we are.”
But Kerry Haynie, a Duke University political scientist, said Republicans have helped foster perceptions that make it difficult for them to win minority support.
“The party has an image problem with minorities, and a deserved image problem,” Haynie said. “To overcome that will take time. But it will take more than words.”
South Carolina’s newly appointed Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, the nation’s only African-American senator, said Republicans can reach minorities by emphasizing shared, essentially conservative values.
“The answer is embedded in the American Dream,” Scott said in a phone interview. While he talks about growing up in poverty as the son of a single mother in Charleston, he added, other Republicans have similar stories of overcoming obstacles.
“We have to consistently communicate the stories that come out of our party,” Scott said, “because it’s the American story.”
Reaching out to Latinos
RNC member Robin Armstrong said, “Part of it is showing up and getting involved in these communities.” Texans, he noted, just elected Republican Ted Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, to the U.S. Senate.
“From my experience, these communities are very conservative, they just haven’t heard the message,” said Armstrong, who is black. “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
But an analysis by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News found that demographic changes put the reliably Republican state on a path toward partisan parity by 2024, or 2016 if Democrats increase their share of the Latino vote by a few percentage points.
Many Latinos have criticized Republicans for their tough stands on immigration. On Thursday, a group that included some undocumented immigrants protested in Marshall Park, appealing for more rights for the undocumented, including drivers licenses and access to in-state tuition.
Last year, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Latinos when he called for “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants and threatened to veto the DREAM Act, a proposal to give educational benefits and a path to citizenship to children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.
“The past several elections have demonstrated that’s not a viable strategy,” said Luis Alvarado, a GOP consultant attending the RNC meeting. “All we’re doing is helping Democrats perpetuate a misconception that has helped them. …
“We believe that the values of the Republican Party are values in sync with what the Latino community believes in. We just have to find a better way to (show it).”
Republicans say they’ll do that by reaching out to minority groups.
“We should be able to go anyplace in America, listen to what their hopes and dreams are, and offer them a better future,” Gingrich said Thursday.
Fleischer said November proved one thing “loud and clear.”
“Republicans have to include everybody,” he said. “And that’s a powerful lesson for Republicans.”