- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A top Virginia Republican wants his party to recruit more minority and female candidates, a move that some say would appeal to more voters in the next election and one that indicates he wants more of a leadership role in the state party.

“We need to invest heavily and realize our future is having different communicators of our message,” Rep. Thomas M. Davis III told The Washington Times. “It’s not that we have to change our message. We have a great message. We sometimes need different messengers.”

Mr. Davis, who is interested in running for U.S. Sen. John W. Warner’s seat if he retires in 2008, said a more diverse pool of candidates would increase the party’s chances of maintaining control of the state legislature, increase its support in Northern Virginia and make it tougher for Democrats to win another statewide election for top office.

“The demographic changes are not subject to debate,” he said. “These communities have some very able people who we traditionally do not get involved in our political leadership. The party just can’t give them lip service.”

That means Republicans must be seen at “the cultural fairs, the mosques, the temples, the community centers and urban communities that we have been ignoring for too long and getting buried on election night,” Mr. Davis said.

Sen. George Allen’s loss to a Democrat in the midterm election last month has Virginia’s Republican Party looking for ways to improve its chances in statewide elections, and make inroads in the Democratic-leaning suburbs of Northern Virginia.

It also has opened the door for someone to replace Mr. Allen, the oft-described patriarch of the state’s modern Republican Party.

“I think what you have here is Davis trying to put forward a vision for the future of the Republican Party,” said Robert Holsworth, dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University. “He is attempting to define himself and define a purpose for the Virginia GOP that is clearly grounded in his base in Northern Virginia. He thinks this is a winning message statewide and he might be right.”

Republicans told The Times they support Mr. Davis’ push for diversity.

“If you are conservative in philosophy, we don’t care what your race is, or what your gender is,” said state House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican.

State Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II said the emerging ethnic communities in Northern Virginia make it more important to cultivate minority candidates.

“The Korean vote is a big deal in my district,” the Fairfax County Republican said. “The black vote is always important in Virginia and the Hispanic vote is always growing.”

Republicans have had success recruiting female candidates. In the late 1990s, state Sen. Jeannemarie A. Devolites Davis was elected as a delegate to represent a Fairfax County seat, and Michele B. McQuigg won a House seat representing a part of Prince William County.

Republicans also have attracted women through the Jennifer Byler Institute, a program designed to “increase the number of effective Republican women in public service and party leadership.”

But the party has not enjoyed the same success recruiting minorities. The 17 black legislators in the General Assembly are all Democrats.

Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr., Chesapeake Democrat, said the majority of the black community backs Democrats because their agenda better represents the community’s needs.

“The Republican Party as a whole, they don’t care about affirmative action or health benefits for the poor,” he said. “They look out for the wealthy person, and you don’t have too many wealthy black people.”

Former Delegate Winsome Earle Sears became the first black Republican woman elected to the legislature in 2001. In the 1990s, Paul C. Harris became the first black Republican elected to the state House in 100 years.

Mr. Harris, who represented Albemarle County, said Republicans have had a difficult time recruiting minority candidates because their interest in those communities tends to only come during election years.

“The problem has been, in part, that outreach into minority communities has not been seen among Republican leaders as a moral imperative,” Mr. Harris said. “Therefore, they have lacked compassion and commitment.”

He also said they have not done a good job of explaining how their conservative message can benefit minorities in areas such as quality education, lower taxes and access to health care.

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