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Reince Priebus: GOP gains among minorities won't happen overnight

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Thursday that the GOP has become a party that has taken the black vote for granted.
Image: Reince Priebus
Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus, center, speaks with people in the audience after addressing the crowd at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, July 31, 2014, in Boston.

BOSTON— Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told an audience of hundreds of black journalists Thursday that the GOP has become a party that has taken the black vote for granted, but that the party is in the midst of outreach efforts to communities of color.

“We have become a national party that has decided that it’s OK to show up once every four years about five months before an election. We’ve become a national party that really is a U-Haul trailer of cash for a presidential nominee. We have forgotten the mechanics,” Priebus said at the annual National Association of Black Journalists convention. “I understand that this is not something that’s going to change overnight. What I’m saying is instead of getting 6% of the black vote in this country, if we get out there and fight and talk to people, then we get 15, then we get 20, and two years later we get 22 and 23. I’m in this for the long haul.”

The Republican Party has struggled to attract black voters. As Priebus alluded, President Obama won a whopping 96% of black voters in the 2012 presidential election. Black voters also turned out in higher numbers than white voters for the first time ever in 2012 -- 66% to 64.1% -- according to CNN. Attracting a more racially diverse electorate will be key for the GOP's long-term prospects.

“Everyone has a story to tell,” Priebus said, “and its up to me and other people in the party to tell our story.”

Preibus said the party is currently spending about $8.5 million a month on outreach operations targeted at black, Hispanic and Asian voters. Those efforts, spawned after the RNC's post-2012 election post-mortem report, titled “Growth and Opportunity,” have already touched 100,000 people, according to Priebus. He said the program has offices in 15 states with paid full-time staff and 500 volunteers.

During a sit-down interview with a pair of moderators, Priebus discussed how Republican-led efforts to bolster voter identification laws in many states have alienated some minority voters. Opponents of such laws claim that efforts to limit access to the ballot box disproportionately affect minority and poor voters.

Priebus admitted that some people roll their eyes at any mention of voter fraud -- a number campaigns against alleged voter fraud have come up short on smoking guns -- but the RNC chief claimed he has seen cases of fraud in his home state of Wisconsin. Still, voter fraud convictions in the state are quite low, up to about 20 per year, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.  

Priebus also spoke a bit about his personal story. He said that his mother, who worked as a seamstress, was born in the African nation of Sudan and that she spent 20 years of her life there. Priebus's father was a union electrician.

Priebus also detailed his time as a clerk for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Los Angeles.

“I don’t talk about that often. I don’t think anyone has ever heard me say that,” he said, referring to his work with the NAACP. Because I don’t try to use that as a method to endear myself, but I say that because I think all of us have a story to tell about where we come form and how we got here. But if nobody’s there to tell the story than you're not going to move the dot … this is what a national party has to do and this is what we’re breaking our back to do.”

The National Association of Black Journalists is the largest organization of journalists of color. In recent years, the organization's annual convention has hosted Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was scheduled to address the organization Thursday.