GOP addresses need to renew efforts in reaching Southern black voters

May 02, 1994|By Dallas Morning News

MARIETTA, Ga. -- Southern Republicans seeking to improve the party's standing were urged during the weekend to press traditional GOP positions -- strength abroad, low taxes and conservative values -- but also to undertake a new, concerted effort to win black voters.

In Southern states such as Georgia, where blacks make up 30 percent of the electorate, "the numbers are bleak for us if we write off this black vote," Atlanta-based pollster Whit Ayres told the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

In local, state and national elections, black voters remain "the last bastion of Democratic control in the South," added Warren Tompkins, a South Carolina GOP consultant who worked in President George Bush's 1992 southern campaign. "You break that and you've broken the Democratic Party forever."

Mr. Ayres presented polling data indicating that some blacks, including inner-city dwellers thought to be the most loyal to Democrats, share Republican views on school-choice vouchers, tough anti-crime measures, economic empowerment and welfare reform.

But Republicans at the weekend conference, who also spent time bashing President Clinton, disagreed about the extent to which the party should make specific overtures to black voters.

Jack Kemp, one of five potential 1996 GOP presidential contenders to address the three-day gathering, made the most passionate pitch for greater outreach.

"The Republican Party has an emerging Southern strategy quite different from the Southern strategy of many decades ago," said the former congressman and Housing and Urban Development secretary.

Mr. Kemp and others said the party will have to work at it. President Clinton won 82 percent of the black vote in the 1992 election.

And Mr. Kemp acknowledged that high-profile actions such as the Republican-led push last year to keep Confederate symbols in the Georgia state flag hurt the party with black voters.

Others addressing the gathering, which included only a handful of blacks, were two prominent blacks: television commentator Tony Brown and Georgia state Sen. Roy Allen of Savannah, who recently switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican.

Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, education secretary in the Bush administration and a potential 1996 contender, won applause with his condemnation of the Clinton administration's reversal of a ban on college scholarships awarded based on race. "I think we have to get over the idea of making specific appeals to specific groups," he said.

Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, a likely 1996 presidential candidate, similarly said a broad policy-based GOP approach should be enough to win black votes.

Mr. Gramm said he won half the Hispanic vote and 20 percent of the black vote in Texas during his 1990 re-election bid. "I didn't do that by making some special [outreach] program," he said.

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