At the Republican National Convention in Tampa convention planners strived to fill the podium with minority speakers who would make the party's case that the GOP represents their interests. By all accounts the effort from the podium was a success. But on the convention floor, the gathering of delegates looked more like a country club gathering of whites rather than an inclusive party made up of diverse racial and ethnic groups.
Black and Hispanic delegates were few and far between; the Washington Post reported that just 2 percent of GOP delegates at the RNC were "people of color" — compared to 40 percent at the DNC.
The Republican Party has a lot of work to do.
Nationwide, GOP efforts at minority outreach tend to fall flat. The party's idea of grassroots outreach usually means sending out press releases touting their efforts which usually amount to occasionally hiring a black or Hispanic to go into those respective communities to recruit voters. The GOP's paltry attempts bear little fruit because all they are doing is watering the lawn when what they need to do is irrigate the field and cover it with a heavy dose of fertilizer.
One party leader I spoke with about the GOP's minority outreach efforts who wished to remain anonymous said, "It's pretty bad, brother. It's all smoke and mirrors."
From the podium at the convention, the GOP had plenty of stars, including Mia Love, Marco Rubio, Condoleezza Rice, Suzanna Martinez and Artur Davis. The top-down approach of promoting minorities within the party isn't without its merits and should be part of a successful minority outreach strategy.
Or as USF political science professor emeritus Darryl Paulson told me, "Top-down works to the effect that you can put out a face to appeal to minorities." But the GOP's success from the top is only one small piece of the pie. Paulson said the party "…needs a process that builds from the bottom-up, not top-down. Otherwise, it's a token effort."
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry acknowledges the GOP needs to improve its outreach to minorities. "Getting the black and Hispanic vote isn't going to happen in one election cycle or by pandering on one issue. It's going to take time," Curry told me when I asked how the party can fix its minority gap.
"You can have the best ideas, but if you don't have a distribution channel to get the message out, no one is going to buy it," Curry said of the party's difficulties. "The national Republican party lacks a long-term strategy to deliver those ideas to diverse communities."
What that means is Republicans won't be spending much money to attract black voters this year. And who can blame them? In 2008, 95 percent of blacks voted for Barack Obama. As for Hispanics, the GOP will make some effort to attract them, even though just 31 percent of Hispanics voted for John McCain four years ago.
The Romney campaign's goal is to get at least 38 percent of Hispanics to vote for the GOP ticket. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll before the convention suggests the campaign has some work to do. The poll showed Obama clobbering Romney among both Hispanics and blacks — 67 percent to 23 percent, and 94 percent to 0, respectively.
While Mitt Romney could win the presidency with virtually no black support, and less than a majority of the Hispanic vote, with the growing Hispanic population it is unlikely any Republican ticket will ever be able to do so again.
For the party, that means it's time to start developing a long-term strategy to appeal to Hispanic and black voters. It shouldn't be hard for the party of Lincoln. But so long as the party's fringes dominate discussions with topics such as immigration and getting tough on welfare, it will be a challenge. The Democrats' message that basically amounts to "we'll protect you from the border to the grave" resonates with a lot of minorities who think government owes them something. That attitude makes the Republican effort an even greater challenge.
Until the GOP finds a message that resonates with blacks and Hispanics, the party will continue top-down minority outreach that is akin to building a roof of a house before laying the foundation or erecting the walls.
Or put another way, they'll continue to roll out minorities at the podium to speak to voters from the country club — and lose.