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WBFO brings you NPR's live coverage of the Republican National Convention tonight from 9pm-11pm.

GOP Wooing Women & Minorities


Now we head into the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh cut on hot topics with our panel of women journalists, commentators, bloggers and activists.

Even though the next presidential election is several years away, the major political parties are already thinking about how to reach new voters. Republicans in particular have been in the news, both because of their poor showing with minorities last year and their efforts to address that by bringing more diverse perspectives and candidates to the Republican Party.

The former RNC chair, Ed Gillespie, spoke with us recently about that. Then last week, Rand Paul spoke at Howard University, the historically black university here in Washington, D.C. His speech got decidedly mixed reviews, both in the room and outside of it.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: You know more than I know and - OK - and that's - and I don't mean that to be insulting. I don't know what you know and you don't - you know, I mean, I'm trying to find out what the connection is.

MARTIN: What happened there was that he had mentioned that the founders of the NAACP were Republican and he asked the students at this university if they knew that. They did. That's what that was all about.

But we wanted to talk more about this outreach effort in general, and also whether women are included in the groups requiring some Republican TLC, so we decided to put that question to our panel in our Beauty Shop roundtable.

Sitting in the chairs this week are Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at the Wise Latina Club. Professor Andra Gillespie is an associate professor of political science at Emory University, which is in Atlanta. And Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website.

Ladies, welcome to our new digs. Thank you all so much for joining us.


ANDRA GILLESPIE: Thank you for having us.

MARTIN: Let me just say that, at a time like this, when the nation is still in mourning because of what happened in Boston, talking about politics can seem very small, and I do understand that. But, Professor Gillespie, I wanted to ask you, does it still matter? I mean does something like this, this outreach effort for whatever it is - does that still matter?

GILLESPIE: I think it does. I mean, the Republican Party is in a position right now where, if they don't figure out a new branding strategy, they could make themselves irrelevant in the next generation. If people of color, who are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, are increasingly turned off by Republican Party rhetoric, the Republicans aren't going to have a constituency base 50 years from now, so it's very important.

MARTIN: Bridget, what do you think?

BRIDGET JOHNSON: Well, I look at this from personal experience. I know I've talked on the show before about my beautiful hometown of L.A., but when I was there, you know, I would go to a lot of the different Republican functions, and there was nothing forced. They were very naturally very diverse, you know, black, Latino, Jewish, gay, you know, just a very, very wide swath representing the population down there.

And what they were doing down there is what I call in-reach - is that it was outreach, but it was coming from within the communities. You had, you know, a Hispanic activist who was going door-to-door in his neighborhoods that were majority Latino and talking about, you know, entrepreneurship and, you know, highlighting the social issues in the Republican Party, etc.

And the unfortunate thing, though, is that I didn't see this model being even looked at or adopted by the national party, because it's almost like California is just written off as a blue state, and then also I think it comes down to this kind of orthodoxy that's going on now too. You know, if someone's coming from the coastal states, coming from an urban area where you're going to have inroads with minority communities, you might not tow every single party line so that there needs - when you're talking about a big tent, that has to be on policy too, and it has to loosen up on some of the orthodoxy.

MARTIN: Do you feel, though, that like an incident like this - it's interesting because we were the - you know, MORNING EDITION did an interesting piece about this today and I would urge people to look at it - they can catch up on the NPR website - that pointed out that, you know, on one hand, at a time of national tragedy, mourning, something like this that affects everyone, even if you're not directly affected - on the one hand, there's an initial kind of feeling of unity, but then the country kind of gets polarized. People kind of go to their corners, and you saw that. There's a lot of, you know, Islam-a-phobia, anti-Islamic rhetoric. We're already seeing this on the Internet, even though we have no idea who is responsible for this. Every major person in law enforcement, every national leader, every state leader has been saying do not rush to judge. We don't know who's responsible for this.

And you kind of wonder whether - Viviana, maybe I'll ask you - whether something like this - you know, what effect does it have on a party's willingness to kind of be seen reaching out to people who are not already part of the group?

HURTADO: I think it's critical and, you know, I think the reason it's important that we continue, for example, to talk about politics, even though we are mourning and certainly the families of survivors and the victims continue to be in our hearts and prayers, but the reason we need to continue to talk about this and continue to work the way we do is that we have to continue to move forward. The healing process is going to be bumpy and long, certainly, for the loved ones and for their victims, but for the rest of us, whether it's a tendency to be completely paralyzed by fear and anxiety or for some people who are just going to, you know, go off the deep end and start with Islam-a-phobia or, you know, xenophobia, I think the best thing for us to do is to continue our work.

And as far as the GOP is concerned, you know, they have a lot of work to do, certainly with in-reach, with outreach and remember that even within their own party they've got to bring it together. There's the Republican Party, but then there's a lot of other elements like conservative media that its own - you know, they go off on their own tangents.

MARTIN: You're not talking about Bridget, are you?

HURTADO: There's a lot of groups. No, not...

MARTIN: You're not talking about Bridget.

HURTADO: Never Bridget - and her cool four-wheel drive. You know, think about all of the superPACs and groups, the Internet. So how is it that you unify all of these messages, or you don't? But you have to have one strong message that comes out of headquarters that kind of would eclipse the rest of the chatter that's coming from these other groups.

MARTIN: One other thing I wanted to ask, though, about - that according to exit polling, I'll just pick the CNN poll, 55 percent of women voters chose President Obama over Republican Mitt Romney. Forty-four percent chose Mitt Romney in the last election. You know, that's a pretty big spread, but there's been this so-called gender divide in politics for, you know, quite some time now, dating back to the Reagan era. And I mean obviously people often focus on the female, you know, gender gap and the female predilection for Democrats. They tend to focus less on the male predilection for Republicans, but I think that's partly because there are more women in the population and more women vote.

You know, so one question I have, Bridget, is why do you think that is? And is that something that should be part of this outreach?

JOHNSON: Well, it's probably because you have people like Foster Friess quipping that birth control is holding an aspirin between your knees, and that approach doesn't work very well outside of CPAC and there's a lot of world outside of CPAC. So, you know, I look at, you know, women's rights and reproductive issues, etc. and think about, you know, a group like Feminists For Life does it right because they actually focus on the women. What is the woman going through? How can we help the women? How can we not frame it in a way that women are slutty, you know, and it's a very insulting message.

And then you have people - I believe it was Bobby Jindal who came out and said, you know what? The birth control pill should be over-the-counter. And I hear something like that as a woman and I don't care what party I'm in. I'm like, that's a great idea.

MARTIN: Which is interesting because he is a conservative Catholic. I mean, that's very - it's interesting.

Professor Gillespie, what do you think about that? I mean, why do you think it is that Democrats seem to have such a strong advantage with women voters? Overall, of course. I mean, obviously, there are a lot of very, you know, active, strong Republican women. There are a number of Republican women governors, for example, making - getting a lot of attention and getting a lot of followers. But why do you think that is and is there something that you think the Republican Party could be doing differently?

GILLESPIE: So there are a number of issues. One, historically, part of the reason why Democrats have had an advantage among women for the last 30 years or so has to do with second wave feminism, which is more identified with the Democrat Party. And then, also, women are perceived to place a higher importance on issues that could be indirectly related to their reproductive roles, so education, health care and other types of issues, and Democrats have an advantage on those issues in the minds of women.

I think it's actually really important to point out, though, that in the 2012 exit poll results, that if we break those gender results down by race, that white women were actually more likely to vote for Mitt Romney than they were for Barack Obama. So it's in part a gender issue, but it's also in part a race issue as well, and a positioning that people have based on their own lived experiences.

MARTIN: So you think - that's interesting. So you think that the race is the more powerful driver of preference than gender is?

GILLESPIE: No. I mean I think you have to look at them in concert with one another, that people have intersectional identities and so there are women who if gender issues are going to be more important for them, in particular if they hold liberal opinions on birth control and reproductive choice and other kinds of issues, they're going to be Democrats. But for other women, it could be that they're more concerned about defense issues. It could be they're concerned about taxation issues if they happen to be upper class, and those issues might actually compel them to be Republican.

And there's still a racial divide and we can't - you know, we have to acknowledge that 2012 was an extremely racially polarizing year, and that was true for men and women. It was also interesting in 2012 - and I should point this out - that, for the first time, we saw very noticeable differences amongst black men and women and Latino men and women as well, so there were gender gaps there that we're not used to seeing, and we don't know the answer to that question yet.

So for academics like me, we're waiting for the next couple of weeks for the raw data from the exit polls to be released so that we can crunch numbers. I can't wait to do that, but I'm about a month away from being able to say with any certainty what the origins of that gender gap was.

MARTIN: Interesting. And gender gap in which direction?

GILLESPIE: That men were more likely to vote for Mitt Romney, both black men and Latinos.

MARTIN: Interesting. Well, Viviana, what about the fact that, you know, it's true that, like many other stories, the push on immigration reform has been eclipsed, at least, you know, for now by this, you know, terrible event in Boston that captured so much of our attention - and rightly so. But do you feel that that - I know I'm asking you to predict, but do you feel that that will perhaps change some of the dynamic that has emerged with Latino voters who, like African-Americans, have started to - have really started to kind of break more strongly for Democrats?

HURTADO: I reached out to some of my GOP sources and I asked them this question and one of the things that they were telling me is that, you know, with some exceptions there really is a consensus that if - that this immigration bill has to pass. It's one of the best things for the GOP because it's going to completely diffuse that toxic rhetoric around immigration that we saw pronounced during the 2012 election.

So, you know, going forward in all 844 pages of it that I know Bridget is reading - so, you know, if you think about it, if they're able - this is what these - my GOP sources tell me. If they're able to pass immigration, then all of a sudden there are prospects for 2014 and 2016 that they're working on with these kind - with this kind of outreach. We saw the report. We know about the report that was released. There has also been people, key people named for Asian-American outreach, as well as African-American and Latino outreach.

I think going forward it's going to be focusing on issues, for example, like school choice, that education is hugely important for Latinos and for a lot of people of color, poor people of color, they don't have a choice. They don't have those 10,000 or 12,000 dollars for parochial school, and so in areas where schools are failing, all of a sudden, you know, if the Republican Party - and this is one of these issues that they've been really focusing on, school choice, this is something that could be very appealing, at least for Latino voters.

MARTIN: Final thought, Bridget. Sorry, we really don't have a lot of time to dig into it, but Rand Paul has kind of surfaced as kind of an important libertarian political figure. We really haven't had one in a while on the national stage who is taken seriously. But is he the right messenger to these groups?

JOHNSON: He's a really fascinating political figure to watch right now. You know, his filibuster drew so many people in because it was about a constitutional issue that people could get on, whether - you know, it doesn't matter what party you're on. You could talk about due process and you could say, hey, you know, look at what this guy's talking about. He's got the advantage that he's not as abrasive as his dad. He's got that cute little mop top of hair going. You know, he's just, you know, a really personable guy that you want to talk to and listen to.

I think that his Howard appearance meant a lot because it wasn't in the context of campaign season.

MARTIN: OK. Bridget Johnson is Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website, here in our Washington, D.C. studios, along with Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at Wise Latina Club. With us from Atlanta, Professor Andra Gillespie. She's an associate professor of political science at Emory. She was with us from their studios there.

Thank you all.

HURTADO: Thanks, Michel.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

GILLESPIE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.