Mon, Jul 26, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Can Bush win the favor of minoriry voters?

After four years of opposing affirmative action, the US president's campaign has unveiled a steering committee with celebrities who see things his way -- like boxing promoter Don King

By Michael Janofsky  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Washington


Four years after black voters all but ignored US President George W. Bush at the ballot box, the Republican Party is still struggling to make itself more attractive to them and other minorities.

To improve on his paltry 8 percent support among blacks in 2000, an unusually low level for the winner in a presidential race, the party is wooing blacks in battleground states with new advertising campaigns, voter registration drives on college campuses, the appointment of a "steering committee" of prominent black leaders to promote Bush's policies and a national tour of party officials with the flamboyant boxing promoter Don King.

Bush and his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry, are locked in an exceptionally tight race, and many black Republicans say that even a small increase in minority support could push the president over the top.

But they also say that any such minimal gains would meet only the needs of a close campaign rather than those of a larger strategy to expand the party's future base. And, they add, incidents like Bush's decision two weeks ago not to speak at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention only make the challenge more daunting.

White House officials note that Bush does plan to address the annual meeting of the predominantly black National Urban League on Friday in Detroit.

"I know they're doing all they can, with radio, TV and direct mail," said Bishop Keith Butler, pastor of the Word of Faith International Center in Southfield, Mich., one of 61 members of the president's steering committee that was unveiled a week ago. "But nine of 10 African-Americans know nothing of what George Bush has done that affects their community. I'd like to see the party trumpet what he's done better."

Alvin Williams, president and chief executive of Black America's Political Action Committee, which supports conservative candidates, said, "With respect to expanding the base of the Republican Party, we need a long-term strategy, not just an election-cycle strategy."

The party's 1996 vice presidential nominee, former Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, who remains an influential fiscal conservative, was even more critical of its efforts to expand its base among minority voters.

"We've never done enough," Kemp said.

"I always thought that it's not good for America for one party to take minorities for granted and for our party to blow them off," he added. "We had a great history with African-American voters, and we walked away from it."

Republicans are also facing a challenge in courting Hispanics, a fast-growing bloc that delivered 35 percent of its votes for Bush in 2000, compared with 62 percent for Al Gore.

Bush remains reasonably popular in states with large Latino populations, like Arizona, Texas and Florida, where his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, wins consistently high approval ratings from Cuban-Americans and other Hispanics. But Latino leaders say the president has largely turned his back on them, squandering good will he built as governor of Texas and as a presidential candidate by promising to improve education, health care and economic opportunities for Hispanic communities.

Speaking last year at the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza, the group's president, Raul Yzaguirre, accused the Bush administration of "pinata politics," explaining, "They blindfold you and hope you are satisfied with a few trinkets that fall to the ground."

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