GOP Courts Black Voters With Sweet Tea

In North Carolina, an order of Republican politics comes with a free hot dog and a glass of sweet tea. On Friday, the GOP’s North Carolina African-American Engagement Office put on “Sweet Tea and Politics,” at Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes and Fries in Hoke County, in an attempt to woo more black voters into the party’s fold.

This is the local side to a larger national push by Republicans to solve the demographics problems outlined in the party’s March 2013 “Growth and Opportunity Project,” commissioned by the Republican National Committee’s chairman Reince Priebus after Mitt Romney’s bruising loss in 2012. Last month, according to MSNBC, Priebus said the party was spending about $8.5 million a month to engage potential African-American, Latino and Asian voters, which the party needs more of in order to compete with Democrats on a national scale. North Carolina is one of 13 states – presidential battleground states, plus a handful of Southern states – that Republicans are especially targeting for black engagement.

But will free sweet teas and hot dogs really move the dial?

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, says that conservatives are “beyond in the doghouse” with black voters, so showing up at churches, at barber shops, anywhere in the community, does help. O’Connell argues that it’s not about the events Republican groups are hosting, but what happens next.

“It’s whether or not you get past the meet and greet stage,” O’Connell says.

Using the example of canvassing during a presidential election, O’Connell talks about what happens when a stranger shows up at a someone’s door versus a friendly face.

“Usually you don’t have warm and fuzzies about them,” O’Connell says. “If one of your neighbors shows up and says I’m voting for him … [it’s] a lot more powerful conduit.”   

O’Connell also used the real life example of Reverend James Meeks, a black pastor from Chicago’s South Side, who’s supporting the GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner. Meeks’ endorsement is opening the door for his predominantly black parishioners to ditch the Democratic governor, too.

A big part of this is making the right pitch, and there are issues that might play especially well with black voters, the RNC’s Watson suggested. Among them: jobs and education.

Read more from Nikki Schwab at U.S. News & World Report

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Analysis & Political Strategy