MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) - A GOP effort to send hundreds of party workers into minority communities across the country will continue long after this year's midterm elections are over, the chairman of the Republican National Committee said Tuesday.
"We need to be a year-round party," Reince Preibus said to a gathering of Georgia Republicans. "We need to be a party that is engaged full time in black, Hispanic and Asian communities. Not just once in a while, but all the time."
The work will be critical for the GOP, comprised heavily of white voters, as the size and political strength of minority populations continues to grow nationally. In places like Georgia, where every statewide elected official is Republican, Democrats are hoping an increase in minority voters along with an influx of out-of-state residents will make the state more competitive starting this year. And the stakes couldn't be higher as Republicans make a push to take control of the Senate for the last two years of President Barack Obama's term.
The RNC effort, which includes voter registration drives and numerous community meetings, is one of many launched by Republicans this election cycle. The Republican State Leadership Committee has been working to recruit black, Latino and female GOP candidates for state-level offices. And the billionaire Koch brothers have been helping to fund the Libre Initiative, which looks to make inroads among Hispanic voters through conservative-led outreach efforts such as offering English classes, health checkups and courses to help Spanish-speakers earn high school diplomas.
"We are doing the things that I think, unfortunately, for four years the Democrats have been doing full time across this country," Priebus said.
Priebus' visit to Georgia brought him to Cobb County, a predominantly white suburb north of Atlanta with a fast-growing minority population.
The county, which traditionally votes Republican, is about 62 percent white, 25 percent black and 12 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2010 Census.
Republicans argue their message of fiscal responsibility and a focus on job creation can resonate with minority voters.
"What we are finding out as we are engaging with minorities is that on some of the fiscal issues, it's almost a no-brainer. People understand that debt is not good, that if America has a sinking boat because of the debt then nobody is going to be able to cross the river to opportunity," said Leo Smith, who oversees the GOP minority outreach effort in Georgia and has been traveling the state over the last year to meet with community groups.
Smith added social issues remain a concern, but Republicans need to talk about them in a different way. For instance, many Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have emphasized criminal justice reform because a disproportionate number of the nation's prisoners are black.
One of the most prominent black Democrats in Georgia, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, said it was important for minorities to be engaged by both parties. However, the broader Republican agenda fails to include them, Abrams said, citing the party's opposition to the minimum wage and the federal health care law.
"The distance between Republican ideology and Republican legislation is a gulf that too many people of color fall into," Abrams said. "And we're not going to believe your dream of achievement if you are going to do nothing to make that dream a reality."