- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

Top Republicans including national party Chairman Mark Racicot and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist today will host a meeting with Armstrong Williams and other conservative black leaders from the business, government and policy-research communities.
"I'm excited about this and where it can lead our party," said Mr. Racicot, who with Mr. Williams organized the two-hour meeting scheduled to take place at the Republican Party's national headquarters on Capitol Hill.
A second meeting organized by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Mr. Williams has been scheduled for Jan. 28 in Mr. DeLay's office, Republican sources said. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and "the whole Republican House leadership" also will be there, a source said.
"What I want to see come out of these meetings, more than anything else, is a Republican Party unified behind a push unlike anything yet attempted to recruit conservative black candidates for office from all over our country," said Mr. Williams, a nationally syndicated columnist, TV host and former protege of Strom Thurmond.
Also scheduled to attend today's meeting at the RNC are two black Republicans from the Bush administration: Alphonse Jackson, deputy secretary of housing and urban development, and Leo Mackay, deputy secretary of veterans affairs.
President Bush and his chief political strategist, Karl Rove, have gone out of their way to try to win a larger share of the Hispanic vote for the 2004 presidential elections. But they have also sought to get more black votes a cause which some in the party view as hopeless, considering that 90 percent of the black vote is regularly garnered by Democrats.
Republicans lost their only black member of Congress when Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma chose not to seek re-election last year. Even in Maryland, where Michael S. Steele won election as the first black lieutenant governor of the state, the black vote went 9-to-1 for the Democratic ticket.
Meanwhile, the administration has gotten little credit for the large number of blacks Mr. Bush has named to important positions, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
Yet black conservatives say Mr. Bush has gone further than any previous Republican president in the modern era in extending a welcoming hand to black voters.
Later this month, for example, first lady Laura Bush and Mr. Frist will attend the annual Martin Luther King Day dinner in New York sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, a conservative civil rights organization.
Conservative blacks say they watch carefully to see whether a Republican president will stick with them or attempt to curry favor with, as one conservative put it, the "Jesse Jacksons of the world, who are the sworn enemies of conservative Republicans but the darlings of the liberal editorialists."
Some conservatives, black and white, were outraged earlier on learning that Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Powell, son of the secretary of state, had agreed to attend a dinner sponsored by Mr. Jackson.
The upcoming meetings between Republican leaders and black conservatives are expected to address something each side has recognized but failed to address jointly.
Black conservatives such as Mr. Williams will argue at today's meeting against changing the Republican Party's conservative message in the search for short-term political gains.
Mr. Williams, for one thing, supports Mr. Bush's re-nomination of Charles W. Pickering Sr., the federal judge whose appointment to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is opposed by Democrats who accuse him of being "insensitive" on race issues.
Mr. Williams would also like to ban the word "outreach," which he calls "demeaning" when used by fellow Republicans in talking about appeals to minorities.
"We need to start talking about values instead," Mr. Williams said.

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