Politics & Government

After a rough year, NC Republicans want to do a better job reaching minority voters

Many NC students get election day off. What about adults?
Many NC students get election day off. What about adults? File photo

Last November Republicans took a beating in urban counties like Mecklenburg, where they saw all but one incumbent fall in county and legislative races. It was a similar pattern in other cities.

Now North Carolina Republicans are trying to reach urban voters.

At the GOP state convention Friday, Republicans discussed how to reach out to minority groups, who make a large part of city voters in N.C. On Saturday, the convention will elect a new chairman to help recruit more of those voters to the party.

Jim Womack, who’s running for party chairman, said the GOP has to “reach voters where they are.” If elected, he plans to start running ads on radio stations that cater to African-Americans.

“The first thing is that the party has to get branded as the party of family, faith and fun,” he said Friday.

Michael Whatley, who’s also running for chair, said the party needs a permanent presence in urban communities. And it has to remind voters of Republican economic policies he said have benefited those communities.

“It’s messaging but it’s also presence,” he said.

That’s something two former party officials said the party has not done.

“Their urban outreach is zero,” said Derek Partee, an African-American and former vice chair of the 12th District GOP. “There isn’t a person of color in leadership positions.”

Linda Angele, former party chair in the minority-dominated 12th District, which includes most of Mecklenburg, said the party has not been involved in the community.

“You have to be able to relate to people and talk to them,” she said. “But they can’t think that you’re just doing it because the election is coming up and you need their vote.”

Durham delegate Terry McCann agrees. McCann, who is an African-American, said minority voters may not be aware of Republican policies or may not feel connected to the party.

“I think the biggest part is just getting the message out there through events like potlucks where people can hear the conservative doctrine and understand what it’s about,” McCann said.

He said that if commercials continue to show mostly white people, then people won’t know there are minority Republicans, too.

“We’re not the Republican party they see on TV,” he said.

Shoshanna Weismann, a social media consultant, led a convention workshop on reaching out to urban voters.

She said that Republican politics such as licensing reform are appealing to some African-Americans. For example, licensing reform would allow hair braiders to work without a braiding license. It’s just about making those policies more visible.

Still, many people from the party appreciate that race is not at the forefront of Republican politics. Bobbie Shields, a delegate from Mecklenburg, said the Republican Party focuses more on individual opportunity than race.

“It’s about the mechanism to get us to equality. That mechanism is not government sponsored,” he said.

Former N.C. Rep. Scott Stone, a candidate for lieutenant governor, said that what matters in campaigning, independent of a voter’s race, is “speaking to their issues.”

He said they have to move past last year’s troubles.

“Every single election, every candidate is different,” he said.

The third candidate for chairman, John Lewis, could not be reached.

Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, covers state and local politics. He’s worked at the Observer since 1981 and taught courses on North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College.