- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008

Virginia Republicans say the overwhelming support by blacks and Hispanics that led to big wins for Democrats on Election Day taught them a valuable lesson: The party must work harder to make minority voters feel included and involved or pay dearly at the polls.

President-elect Barack Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to win Virginia, and Senator-elect Mark Warner scored even better than Mr. Obama among blacks and Hispanics in the state.

“That Obama and Warner were able to attract large numbers of minorities suggests to the Republican Party that we need to be better at getting out our message,” said Chuck Smith, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia’s Welcoming Committee. “We are the party of values and freedom.”

To get their message across, Republicans need to focus on a message of “inclusion and involvement,” he said.

In Prince William County, for example, Corey A. Stewart, a Republican and chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors last year led one of the country’s most stringent crackdowns on illegal immigrants, which sparked fear and flight among that Hispanic community.

Fabiola Francisco, chairman of the Virginia chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, said the crackdown showed a huge messaging problem that the party must correct.

“The party has to do a rebranding campaign and make sure the truth is really out there, that we’re not against immigrants or we’re not against other minorities or anything like that,” she said. “The Prince William campaign may have had good intentions, but it did cause an uphill battle for our groups.”

The county this year had 23,500 new voter registrations while nearby Loudoun County had 16,903.

Mrs. Francisco also said that while Republicans have attempted to reach out in such places as churches and stores frequented by minorities, the party needs to cast a wider net with its grass-roots efforts to include such venues as community festivals and soccer tournaments.

Jeffrey M. Frederick, a Hispanic who is chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and a Prince William County state delegate who backed the county’s immigration crackdown, shared similar thoughts.

Republicans need to narrow their focus from a broader policy of inclusion to building one-on-one relationships in communities, he said, and emphasize stances on issues of which minorities and the party agree: small government, lower taxes and family values.

His party also has to overcome the anti-immigration label it’s been given and the fact that many minority cultures associate themselves with the Democratic Party by cultural default, Mr. Frederick said.

“The fact of the matter is our values as Republicans more closely align with the values of these ethnic minorities,” he said. “You name the issue, and they’re going to agree with us more than with the Democrats.”

Mr. Obama defeated Republican Sen. John McCain with roughly 53 percent of the vote in Virginia. Mr. Obama won the support of 92 percent of black voters and 65 percent of Hispanics in Virginia, according to exit polls used by MSNBC.com. In cities with large black populations, such as Hampton, Norfolk and Richmond, Mr. Obama earned a greater percent of the total vote than Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry did in 2004.

Mr. Warner, a former Virginia governor who is white, won a Senate seat with a higher percentage of black and Hispanic voters than Mr. Obama: 93 percent and 71 percent, respectively.

The number of Hispanics in Virginia increased from 329,540 in 2000 to 470,871 in 2006, according to the most recent census figures. And the number of blacks increased from 1.4 million to 1.5 million over the same period, according to the census .

Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said his party focused on a program that included visiting different communities and using Spanish-language materials in some areas prior to this year’s elections.

Mr. Frederick said his party also “reached out this campaign season, [but] I think we need to do more reaching out.” And even Mr. Leopold said the battle between the parties to win minority voters isn’t nearly over.

“If Republicans speak to communities about the issues that they face, I think that will be a battle for us,” Mr. Leopold said. “I don’t think that voting bloc is solidified for Democrats for all time.”

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