A farmer doesn’t plant and harvest in the same season. So why would we expect political parties to do the same? Progress takes time and investment, which is why the Republican National Committee (RNC) got started right away with engaging black voters around the country after the 2012 presidential election. Since 2013, the RNC, under the leadership of Chairman Reince Priebus, has developed and executed a strategy to compete for the black vote, a strategy with results that point to a brighter future for the Republican Party and the country.
Republicans earned double digit support from black voters in the 2014 midterm elections, which was an increase from 2012. While there is more work to be done, we cannot ignore the successes that have been achieved. To put it simply, the vision of how the Republican Party can best connect with black voters through the places where they live, work, watch and worship has been working. The RNC has listened and learned, and is inviting black voters to join us in 2016.
This past year was critical to our commitment to engaging with black communities across the country and responding to their issues of concern. We listened through efforts such as the #CommittedToCommunity campaign and learned that issues of expanding economic opportunities, empowering families through choice in education, and promoting strong families and safe communities were of utmost importance. It was also important that the Republican Party work to rebuild relationships with voters who wanted to see their concerns demonstrated in action.
Last March, Chairman Priebus traveled to Selma, Alabama to mark the 50th Anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march across Edmund Pettus Bridge, honoring the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women who stood up for their constitutional rights. Months later, Chairman Priebus stood with South Carolina governor Nikki Haley in calling for the Confederate flag to be removed from the state Capitol grounds. And just this year, a few days before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I had the opportunity to join Chairman Priebus on a visit to the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina, the site of the vicious racially-motivated shooting last year.
The RNC is building trust by establishing a committed presence in black communities across the country on a year-round basis.
One of the RNC’s signature events for four years running has been the RNC Black Republican Trailblazer Awards Luncheon. In keeping with our mission of reaching voters in their communities, the RNC decided to host this year’s luncheon during Black History Month on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Daytona Beach, FL. It was at this event that I had the opportunity to share my family’s history and relationship to the school’s founder, Mary McLeod Bethune, as well as the value my family places on education.
We hosted our event on the campus of an HBCU in Florida because the presidential election won’t be decided in Washington, DC, but rather in the battleground states that Republicans are determined to win. That is also why Chairman Priebus showed up at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio to help launch a college Republicans chapter in 2015.
Our goal is to compete for every black voter. This means retaining our strongest supporters, welcoming back those who have voted Republican in the past but not recently, and persuading new voters as well. We aren’t where we want to be, but we are moving in the right direction.
One of the key ways we have doubled down on our commitment to rebuild relationships and establish new ones is the Republican Leadership Initiative. RLI is the program we started to train volunteers of all backgrounds who will make up the core of our ground game in 2016. RLI is a six-week program where everyday people from diverse backgrounds learn the nuts and bolts of political campaigning, from developing strategy to registering voters to community organizing. We are building a new generation of leaders in the RNC’s permanent field program.
Our rededication to black voters in communities across the country is catching on in the media as well. Black media outlets have more access to RNC officials than ever before, resulting in an increased presence in black press stories. In 2014 and 2015, Chairman Priebus addressed key stakeholders, including the National Urban League and the National Association for Black Journalists. And the Republican Party has a new chorus of black American voices serving as surrogates for our party in national and local media outlets because no matter how significant the RNC efforts to get our message out are, it can’t be done alone.
Since 2013, the Republican Party has opened doors and created opportunity and dialogue where it didn’t exist before. And we will continue to grow our party by building on new relationships and strengthening old ones. In 2016, we are a party dedicated to more meaningful engagement than ever before. Join us.
James Evans is chairman of the Republican Party of Utah and a graduate of Tuskegee University, a historically black University (HBCU).