Michael Barone analyzed the difference with Cuccinelli this way: “Cuccinelli’s positions on abortion and same-sex marriage are not much different from Christie’s or Virginia Republican incumbent Bob McDonnell’s. But his tone was, and he lost single women by 42 percentage points.” To be fair, McAuliffe was able to run non-stop advertisements painting Cuccinelli as an extremist, while Cuccinelli lacked the funding to respond effectively.
A more important lesson for the GOP is Governor Christie’s notable gains with minorities. Christie won over 20% of the black vote and 51% of the Latino vote. Incumbents almost always have an advantage, but Governor Christie proved that he put his first term to good use, building relationships within minority communities. In 2009, he won just 9% of the black vote, but he focused on spending time in black communities as governor. Said Christie of his gains with Hispanics, “I’m very proud of that, because I’ve worked hard with the Hispanic community to let them see how our policies can help their families.”
Cucinnelli, on the other hand, won only 8% of the black vote. By contrast, incumbent Republican Governor Bob McDonnell received the high profile endorsement of life-long Democrat Sheila Johnson in 2009. Johnson co-founded Black Entertainment Television with her ex-husband, Bob Johnson, and said at the time, “From the beginning, Bob McDonnell has been very concerned about the economy. He has really laid out a roadmap for solving these problems."
Speaking to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Christie said bluntly, "…if you want to attract the majority of the Hispanic vote, if you want to nearly triple your African-American vote, you need to show up. You need to go into those neighborhoods. You need to campaign in places.” I couldn’t agree more.
Why don’t more Republicans do what Governor Christie did and show up? I can only speculate but this much is true: many politicians endure the tiring and thankless campaign process partly because they enjoy being cheered, not booed. Campaigning in hostile territory requires a level of courage and confidence that the average politician simply doesn’t possess. Building trusting relationships is a process of years, not weeks, and demands a kind of patience and commitment that most candidates and campaign managers have little use for.
Republicans do not need to abandon the pro-family convictions that have kept their coalition together for the past several decades. They do need to adjust their messaging so that it is less easily distorted by a hostile press. They absolutely must reach out to ethnic minorities, not just during election season, but year round. Unless the GOP is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to build those kinds of long term relationships, they will need to prepare for many decades of being minorities themselves.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.