- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

With three months to go until the election, Republicans are looking to expand on their long-term efforts to make inroads with the black community, hoping their conservative message can resonate with African-Americans this year even as polls show Donald Trump garnering scant support from black voters.

The Republican National Committee announced several new hires Wednesday with an eye toward black outreach, building on a yearslong concerted effort on that front after President Obama carried about 93 percent of the black vote in 2012.

Ashley Bell, who most recently worked for a criminal justice reform advocacy group, will serve as national director of African American Engagement; political science professor Shannon Reeves will advise the RNC on data and black voter ID; and Elroy Sailor, who worked on Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential campaign, will serve as a senior adviser.

“One of the RNC’s key goals has been to take our message to the black community and make the case why we are the only party capable of delivering prosperity, security and freedom for every neighborhood in America,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

The RNC also announced that Leah Le’Vell, a rising senior at Georgia State University, will serve as the African American Initiatives and Urban Media Fellow.

Mr. Bell said Wednesday that he saw plenty of young blacks at Democratic rallies who were frustrated by former President Clinton’s tough-on-crime policies, which Hillary Clinton has tried to run away from in her own campaign.

“Who gave us the ‘90s, with the millions of many minorities that were incarcerated? That’s a gift of the Clintons,” Mr. Bell said on CNN.

He also said there’s been a big spike in entrepreneurship among blacks, to which Mr. Trump, a world-famous businessman and real estate mogul, could appeal.

“Look, we have work to do. It is work we’re willing to do,” he said. “It starts with having a Republican Party led by Chairman Priebus willing to do the investment to make sure we have people on the ground.”

Indeed, the RNC and prominent Republicans have been working on the issue for years, seeking to rebut charges of election-year opportunism in pitching to black voters.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan toured inner-city areas around the country several years ago, and has made conservative anti-poverty solutions a key part of his agenda as speaker. And Mr. Paul took his own campaign message to places like Detroit and Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C, as the Kentucky senator was laying the groundwork for his own presidential bid.

But polling has shown Mr. Trump still facing an uphill climb at the presidential level in key battleground states.

In a head-to-head matchup against Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump garnered just 1 percent of the black vote in a Marist Poll released this week on Pennsylvania, where black turnout in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas will be crucial.

In a three-way contest that included Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson, Mr. Trump likewise was at 1 percent among African-Americans in a CBS poll released this week on Virginia, where there is a sizable black population in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas.

The political forecasting website FiveThirtyEight.com also published an analysis Wednesday noting that in an average of several national surveys taken since the Democratic National Convention last month, Mr. Trump polled in fourth place among blacks — not only behind Mrs. Clinton, but also trailing Mr. Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told The Washington Times recently that Mr. Trump makes GOP outreach to minorities a bit tougher, but that they should be up to the task.

“I think he’s made it more challenging in some respects, but if our values and principles really mean anything, we should be up for that challenge, and we should be able to force our way through that and really focus the direction of the party,” Mr. Steele said. “But that’s a battle yet to come. We still haven’t finished that work yet, and that’s going to be a real struggle.”

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