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Gathering helps GOP reach out to blacks
Published November 17, 2007
ORLANDO - The state GOP held its first black Republican conference Friday with the hope of riding the inroads Gov. Charlie Crist has made with black voters.
About 150 blacks attended the conference after the party sent out invitations statewide and advertised the event in black newspapers.
The conference included luncheon speeches by Crist and state party chairman Jim Greer, followed by a panel discussion featuring football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann.
Crist is a rarity in his party. He earned 18 percent of the black vote, triple what Gov. Jeb Bush received in his 2002 re-election and double what a Republican typically receives in a statewide election.
Since his election, he has repeatedly earned praise from Democratic black lawmakers for taking on issues important to them. Greer, who was Crist's pick to run the party, said on his first day as chairman that the party needed to reach out to minorities.
The party has since created a leadership council to serve as a liaison to black communities, as well as a minority outreach office.
Blacks make up less than 2 percent of all registered Republicans, and less than 6 percent of registered black voters are Republican, according to figures from last year's general election.
Although Crist is gaining ground with black voters, that won't mean a large shift from those overall numbers, said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor who watched the conference from a media area.
But given that Florida decided the 2000 presidential election by 537 votes, any gains the party can make are important.
"This is all about incrementalism and peeling off and making small gains and trying to be competitive in what promises to be a very, very competitive election in Florida," MacManus said. "You cannot be in a position where you don't try."