Of the more than 2,300 Republican delegates who gathered this week, just 36 — or 1.5% — were black, the lowest portion in 40 years, according to a study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think tank that focuses on black issues.
That is substantially below the figure in 2004, when a record-setting 6.8% of Republican delegates were black.
The number of black Republican candidates running for federal office also has fallen sharply, to about seven from a high of 24 in 1996, according to the study. On an organizational level, just one of the more than 160 members of the Republican National Committee is black, the joint center says.
Officials and delegates here said the figures seem accurate. The Republican National Committee said 13% of registered delegates have identified themselves as belonging to an ethnic minority group, which would include Asians, Hispanics and others, along with blacks. About 24% of the delegates to the Democratic convention last week were black, a record, according to the study. The Democrats have policies to ensure that their delegates reflect the “diversity” of the party, a Democratic representative said.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Michael Steele, a Republican who is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and is African-American. “It’s been a failure in strategy and a failure in communication. The party wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do.”
Among the reasons cited by black Republicans and others: a failure to address issues such as inner-city poverty and crime as well as a failure to recruit and develop strong black candidates
The enthusiasm among blacks for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is a complicating factor. “This is a different year for us — many of us come to the race with mixed emotions,” said Michael Williams, a black Republican who is chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. “I and many black Republicans share the sense of pride that many blacks have with Sen. Obama’s success. But we have significant differences with him in terms of foreign policy and our worldview.”
Republican outreach to Hispanics is stumbling as well. President George W. Bush won 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004. While Hispanics generally preferred Hillary Clinton to Sen. Obama during the Democratic primaries, Sen. Obama leads his Republican rival, John McCain, among Hispanics by a 2-to-1 margin in the latest Gallup poll, largely due to anger among Hispanics over Republicans’ tough line on illegal immigration.
“Our party is in a funk with Latino voters,” said Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, who is Cuban-American. “We dug ourselves into a bit of a ditch on immigration.”
Republicans’ prospects with black and Hispanic voters matter because Democrats are counting on big turnouts from both groups to win battleground states. In 2004, Mr. Bush received 11% of the black vote nationally, but about 16% of the black vote in Pennsylvania and Ohio — swing states that could tip the election. In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 3% of black voters said they would vote for Sen. McCain, less than the 6% Barry Goldwater won when he lost to Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential race.
Sen. McCain was well-received earlier this year when he addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League, and he flew to Memphis, Tenn., to speak on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Mr. Bush has appointed several African-Americans to prominent positions, including two black secretaries of state, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. In recent elections, Republicans have made an effort to broaden the base of the party. Previous conventions have highlighted speeches by prominent black Republicans, including Mr. Powell.
This year, no nationally prominent black Republican will speak at the Republican convention, though Mr. Williams and Mr. Steele spoke Wednesday night.
Republicans say their outreach was hurt by the Bush administration’s bungled response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago, which angered many African-Americans.
Sen. McCain comes from a state with a small percentage of blacks and has no major advisers who are black. Some Republicans say the party is failing to reach out to blacks.
“I haven’t heard from the party of Abraham Lincoln about urban economic issues, unemployment and housing, the state of African-American marriage,” said Jack Kemp, a former Republican vice-presidential candidate and a longtime advocate of Republicans’ reaching out to black voters. “We seem to be silent about these issues.”
Mr. Williams of Texas says the ranks of black Republicans will grow again “when an African-American Republican will win a top seat in his or her state. Then you will see us recover the momentum. There will be a real face we can rally around.”
Mr. Steele has a more modest goal. Looking ahead to boosting the number of black delegates at the next Republican convention, in 2012, he says: “Give me one more brother than I have this time. That will be progress.”