RNC hires strategists to help woo African-American voters

Ashley D. Bell speaks during an interview with The Associated Press Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, in Washington. Bell, who was one of the 18 black delegates at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, started this week as an RNC senior strategist and national director of African-American engagement. (AP Photo/Paul Holston)
Ashley D. Bell speaks during an interview with The Associated Press Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, in Washington. Bell, who was one of the 18 black delegates at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, started this week as an RNC senior strategist and national director of African-American engagement. (AP Photo/Paul Holston)

WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee is trying to strengthen its outreach to black voters by hiring a new national director of African-American engagement and bringing on new advisers and strategists to bolster its efforts to bring in more minority voters.

Ashley Bell, who was one of the 18 black delegates at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, started this week as an RNC senior strategist and national director of African-American engagement.

Bell is also founder and co-leader of the 20/20 Leaders of America, LLC, a bipartisan group of African-American leaders and elected officials "united to elevate issues disproportionately affecting communities of color above partisan politics," according to the group's website. Its Democratic leader is Mayor Aja L. Brown of Compton, California.

Bell said if Republicans can get personal conversations started with the African-American community about issues that blacks care about, their candidates may have a chance in contests against Democrats. It's healthy for blacks to have actual choices between the two major parties, he said.

"If we leave every African-American voter where they feel they have a legitimate choice, then we've won the day," Bell said.

He will be joined by Elroy Sailor and Shannon Reeves. Sailor, who used to work for Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, said he will serve as an advisory capacity to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus while Reeves, a political science professor at Alabama A&M University, will work with the party on creating a database of black voters.

All of them have important jobs to help convince black voters to consider the GOP that extends beyond this November's election, Sailor said.

"Ashley is focused on tactics, strategies, elections; Shannon is focusing on the X's and O's, the number, the data; I'm focused three-dimensionally on institutional infrastructure, sustainability," he said. "So when you look at the approach, it is a very comprehensive, that is a winning approach."

The Republican Party has made a focus on getting more minority voters into its ranks, in part because racial and ethnic minorities are expected to make up a majority of Americans within about 30 years.

"We are growing our long-term commitment to engaging with black voters and being the party that promotes new models to solve old problems," Priebus said.

The number of African-American voters has increased steadily: 12.9 million in 2000, 14 million in 2004, 16 million in 2008 and 17.8 million in 2012. In the last presidential election year, 2012, blacks for the first time voted at a higher rate, 66.2 percent, than did whites, with a rate of 64.1 percent, or Asians or Hispanics, with rates of about 48 percent each.

Few of those votes went to Republican candidates; most African-American voters do not identify themselves as Republican. Exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and the networks showed that only about 6 percent identified themselves as GOP voters in 2004, and 4 percent did so in 2008 and 2012.

"We are growing our long-term commitment to engaging with black voters and being the party that promotes new models to solve old problems," Priebus said.

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