"People on the Ground": The RNC's Strategy To Reach New Black Voters

Kevin Glass

5/4/2013 3:33:00 PM - Kevin Glass

The Republican Party's post-2012 introspection has focused principally on America's growing Hispanic population and how the GOP can capture larger percentages of the Hispanic vote, but Republicans aren't sitting back on their heels when it comes to other groups that conservatives have traditionally struggled with.

African-Americans turned out at the polls at much higher rates in 2008 and 2012 than in previous elections. As Jamelle Bouie writes, President Obama's vote margin in Ohio "can be explained solely by higher black turnout." And while it's possible that this could be due to the historic nature of President Obama's candidacy, the Republican National Committee sounds like they're treating increased participation in the political process by the black community as a permanent trend.

This week, the RNC brought Amani Council on board to be Director of African American Communications. "It's a new position," Council tells Townhall. "I'm not filling anyone's shoes. I'm basically going out to get African-Americans engaged on a level which they haven't been in a really long time."

African-Americans are indeed engaged at a much higher rate than they have been historically. The Associated Press recently found that if the demographics of the presidential vote had been at 2004 level, Mitt Romney would have won the election. As demographic trends are turning, however, 2004 looks like it's going to be a demographic makeup never seen again.

Council says that, through her position and efforts at the RNC, Republicans will go after these new demographics in a way that recognizes that new reality. "We're doing a lot of rebranding of our image... we're building in a way that just hasn't been done before," she says. "I think it's great that there was a lot of African-American involvement in the political process in these last two elections. We have to give credit where credit is due. Obama did things that the Republican Party just wasn't doing. We're going to build off of that. There are more minorities who are engaged in the process, and getting them engaged in our values and our messages so that the people who are already active in various states get mobilized in a way that gets more people to the polls."

"I don't see that as a negative - I actually see that as a positive," Council says. "It will be a challenge but not one that can't be met."

Republican leaders have been more active recently, as well. Sen. Rand Paul received a mixed reception during a speech and Q&A session at Howard University recently, and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus held a "listening session" at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn as a part of this rebranding effort.

Council sees a lot more room for growth. "Town hall meetings and events, they're great, yes, but I think another piece that we're going to add is that instead of just hosting an event and leaving... having people on the ground who are continually working on these efforts even when we're gone. So having the Chairman come and show presence in these communities that he hasn't done before is key, but it can't stop there."

To that end, the RNC will be trying to focus on building permanent networks of support. Council emphasizes a boots-on-the-ground strategy. "You've already got people there who understand what it means to be a Republican and understand what it means to be involved in the political process, and those people who are connected to the community are then going out and building relationships with others." She says that must entail conversations about what it means to be a Republican. "Just because you're black doesn't mean you have to be a Democrat," she says. "Tell me why you are a Democrat. Tell me what that means to you. And let me tell you why I am a Republican. Just getting people involved - I know there's power in that."

To a certain extent, the RNC can only take one side in the "policy or message" debate about GOP rebranding. Policy is up to the individual politicians that make up the GOP's electoral efforts. The RNC is first and foremost about messaging. The RNC is largely out of ammo when it comes to critics claiming that the primary reform effort must be to change its underlying policies.

Council, who brings Hill experience, lobbying efforts and advocacy work to her position, believes that her hire is a step in the right direction for the RNC. "I know there's going to be a challenge because of the impression that African-Americans have about the Republican Party. It's not positive," she says. "But I believe doing something is better than doing nothing at all."