Stewart: After Loss, GOP Needs to Listen to Minorities
By COREY STEWART
PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS CHAIRMAN
Demographics. That’s the word I’ve seen over and over this past week as the pundits try to diagnose what’s wrong with Republicans. Last week’s presidential election certainly indicates that my party has a problem reaching minority voters. It’s a problem we must address, but the solution is not, as many suggest, to jettison our core principles to accommodate changing demographics. In fact, I think the answer is much simpler.
In the last six years I’ve won three countywide elections in Prince William County, including winning 72 of the County’s 77 precincts just one year ago. During that same time John McCain and Mitt Romney were losing the county, badly.
According to the 2010 census, Prince William County has a majority minority population. African Americans, Latinos, and Asians make up more than 50 percent of the county’s population. Those are three groups of people that Republicans are losing nationally. And that’s why some say the GOP must quickly embrace amnesty, gay marriage, and abortion-on-demand if we’re ever going to reach the demographics that Romney lost last week.
The Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, does not need to overhaul its governing philosophy, but we do need to make changes in how we reach minority communities. In 2008 Barack Obama started and ended his general election campaign in Prince William County. He came back twice during the 2012 campaign. But, where were Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, especially late in the campaign? The Romney campaign had to cancel one planned stop in the county, but it would have been to an area that is heavily white and strongly Republican. Why not go to a place where you have a chance to persuade people?
As I’ve campaigned and governed, I’ve gone all over Prince William County. I’ve attended celebrations at local mosques, talked with people at ethnic grocery stores, enjoyed black church services, and shaken hands at commuter parking lots. The people of Prince William County are a snapshot of America. They represent the broad range of racial groups and social classes, and I’ve never written off one group or another.
I believe in the principles of a free market, a limited government, the rule of law, good governance, and individual responsibility, and I share those ideas with people from every walk of life. That’s why I’ve never questioned the value of going to the neighborhoods, churches, and businesses of voters who belong to a demographic that Republicans historically have not won, and listening to what they have to say.
Before Republicans consider major changes to our platform, let’s first get back to basics. Voters expect to be asked for their vote. And flashy TV ads and glossy flyers don’t make up for the lack of a personal touch. If we intend to ask people for their votes we need to go where they are, tell them what we believe, and listen to their concerns. The GOP must respect minority communities and not blow them off by never visiting their neighborhoods. When candidates do that, voters feel ignored and disrespected. For me, showing people a long-term commitment starts by going where they live, shaking their hand, looking them in the eye, and telling them how the principles I stand for will produce benefits that flow through their neighborhoods, regardless of their skin color.
I’ve done that, and you know what I’ve often found? Agreement. Time and time again I’ve met minority voters who agree with me, even on issues like gay marriage, abortion, and the enforcement of immigration laws. By suddenly changing our positions on these issues we could actually be walking away from common ground we share with large numbers of minority voters. I’ve also found, from my conversations, that even when we don’t agree, there are countless minority voters who have supported me over a Democratic candidate, because they know that I will represent them, that I will listen to them, and that I’m genuinely interested in the issues that concern them.
It would be a big mistake for the Republican Party to change our principles. But we’re already making a bigger mistake by not taking our principles to minority neighborhoods and talking about them with voters we should be winning. I know it sounds simple, but it’s time Republicans start showing up and demonstrating a real commitment to everyone we hope to represent.