The quote was blunt: "If we're going to be the white party, we're going to be the losing party."
The speaker was Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, speaking last week in Shelbyville at a ceremony honoring the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. The likely presidential candidate has made it clear that part of his campaign â “ and his campaign to save his party â “ is to appeal to minority groups.
"I think you'll find nobody in Congress doing more for minority rights than me, right now. Republican or Democrat," Paul told reporters, according to Louisville TV station WDRB.
No Republican presidential candidate has received more than 15 percent of the black vote since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, according to the Annenburg Public Policy Center's Factcheck.org. Some black voters don't see that changing.
That doesn't discourage Paul, who in the past year has introduced criminal justice reform legislation and spoken before predominantly Hispanic and black audiences to widen the GOP base.
Paul will continue his outreach efforts in Cincinnati July 25 when he speaks to the National Urban League conference at the Duke Energy Convention Center. No one with the Urban League would comment for this story.
Paul plans to highlight his stance on criminal justice issues, including his opposition to mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and recent legislation he's introduced to restore voting rights to convicted felons.
"We are working hard on a lot of issues that affect the minority community," Paul told The Enquirer last week.
A Bluegrass Poll conducted by Louisville's Courier-Journal in May gave Paul hope his efforts have not been in vain. It showed Paul would receive 29 percent of the black vote in Kentucky in a hypothetical contest with Hillary Clinton. Paul saw that as historic.
Some black voters believe it's going to take more than speeches and a few token issues for a Republican to get anything more than a small percentage of black votes.
On this week's 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act, many Democrats pointed out Paul's 2010 comments that the act was too broad and should not apply to private businesses such as luncheonettes. Paul has tried to put distance between himself and those comments of four years ago and has reiterated his support of the Civil Rights Act.
Black voters, however, won't forget the comments so easily, said Mikal Forbush, a community activist from Louisville.
"These things stick in your memory," Forbush said. "At least for me."
At the opening two weeks ago of a GOP office in a predominantly black neighborhood in Louisville, Paul and Forbush came away with different impressions.
Paul, who attended the opening, said he heard from many black people that they feel the Democratic Party takes them for granted. Paul said he sees that as an opportunity for the GOP.
Forbush said that, while it's true many blacks feel the Democratic Party takes them for granted, it doesn't mean they'll gravitate toward the Republicans. He, however, said it doesn't mean Republicans like Paul shouldn't try.
"Rand Paul is doing more outreach in the African-American community than most Republicans in the past," Forbush said. "Whether it helps or not is a different story, but at least he's making the attempts that Bush, Reagan and other Republican leaders have not."
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