G.O.P. Seeks Better Share of Black Vote

WASHINGTON, July 21 – Four years after black voters all but ignored 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 8 percent support among blacks in 2000, an unusually low level for the winner in a presidential race, the party is wooing African-Americans 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 Mr. Bush’s policies and a national tour of party officials with the flamboyant boxing promoter Don King.


Mr. Bush and his Democratic opponent, Senator 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 Mr. Bush’s decision two weeks ago not to speak at the N.A.A.C.P.’s convention only make the challenge more daunting. (White House officials note that Mr. Bush does plan to address the annual meeting of the predominantly black National Urban League, a group with which he has had greater rapport, on Friday in Detroit.)

“I know they’re doing all they can, with radio, TV and direct mail,” said Bishop Keith A. Butler, pastor of the Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield, Mich., one of the 61 members of the president’s steering committee, named Monday. “But 9 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 Representative 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,” Mr. 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 Mr. Bush in 2000, compared with 62 percent for Al Gore.

Mr. 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 “piñata politics,” explaining, “They blindfold you and hope you are satisfied with a few trinkets that fall to the ground.”

In an interview this week, Mr. Yzaguirre said, “That situation is still very much the case,” and predicted that Mr. Bush would be hard pressed to reach the level of Hispanic support he had four years ago.

Maria T. Cardona, a Clinton administration official who is now director of the Hispanic Project at the New Democrat Network, said Hispanic voters were not yet familiar enough with Mr. Kerry to embrace him as they did Bill Clinton and Mr. Gore. “But he has the upper hand,” Ms. Cardona said of Mr. Kerry. “He needs to do more and define himself.”

Meanwhile, she said, in the last three years “President Bush has completely lost all the ground he gained.”

Mel Martinez, who resigned as Mr. Bush’s housing secretary to run for the Senate in Florida, disagreed, arguing that the president was now doing “incrementally better” among Hispanic voters.

“Over all, this will happen in time, not overnight,” he said of Republicans’ appeal to Latinos. “Hispanics are very much in tune with our message.”

Ed Gillespie, the Republican national chairman, conceded that the party had failed to energize substantial numbers of black and Latino voters despite administration policy positions that Republicans argue would benefit them and despite a belief among many African-Americans and Hispanics that Democrats take them for granted.

Mr. Gillespie and other Republicans contend that the administration has been far better for minority voters than they might realize. Party leaders cite the appointment of blacks to prominent positions, like Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and the president’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and speak as well of Mr. Bush’s support for programs popular in low-income communities, like school vouchers, as evidence of his respect for people and issues important to minorities.

“George Bush has a compelling story to tell about public policy initiatives geared toward the empowerment of minorities, particularly those with low and moderate incomes,” said J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio secretary of state, a member of the Bush steering committee.

But black Democrats say Mr. Bush takes positions on other issues that harm their communities, like opposition to affirmative action, lack of full financing for his No Child Left Behind educational program and his nominating candidates for the federal judiciary who the critics assert would weaken civil rights gains.

Marc H. Morial, former Democratic mayor of New Orleans and now president of the National Urban League, said the presidential race was so close that black and Hispanic voters in Ohio, Michigan and other swing states could decide it.

“There’s a potential to have an increased turnout,” Mr. Morial said of black voters of both parties. “But underneath, there is a bit of cynicism in the African-American community about whether it matters who’s in charge. We want the candidates to talk about what our issues are. We want to be part of the debate.”