MOUNT PLEASANT — S.C. Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore vowed to attract minorities to the state’s largest party, but his audience here Monday also showed how far the party has to go.
“We cannot rest on our laurels,” Moore said, adding that the party’s principles and platforms have worked “for as long as this country has been around.”
He said they worked when Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, when Dwight Eisenhower pushed for civil rights in the 1950s and when Ronald Reagan tore down the Iron Curtain.
In the wake of President Barack Obama’s re-election win last year, Republicans have been plotting how to make their party more appealing to Hispanic, black and younger voters.
Moore said he and other Republicans plan this weekend to attend Rockhill Baptist Church, a historically African-American church in Manning. They also plan to have lunch with some members afterward.
“What we’re focusing on is having the kind of relationship that will lead to honest and frank discussions,” he said. “We have to convince them that we deserve to be trusted.”
Moore spoke to the East Cooper Republican Club moments after members watched a video of Louisiana state Sen. Elbert Guillory, who recently changed parties and became that state’s first black Republican lawmaker since Reconstruction.
In the video, Guillory disputes those who considered his change a bold one. “I don’t think it was a bold decision at all,” he said, referring to the party’s original mission to abolish slavery. “It was the right decision, not only for me but for all my brothers and sisters in the black community.”
East Cooper GOP Chairman Mark Smith said if the party is going to grow, it has to reach out to black, Hispanic and younger voters.
“Based on the presidential election, what we’ve been doing isn’t working,” he said.
Moore said the party’s plan to attract minorities begins, but goes beyond, listening sessions. “It’s about having conversations,” he said. “It’s about developing relationships of trust.”
S.C. Democratic Chairman Jamie Harrison said he’s glad to see Moore making the effort but that Republican opposition to the Medicaid expansion and lowering student loan rates will undercut it.
“In the end, it’s not about what you tell people, it’s about what you show them,” Harrison said. “People aren’t stupid.”
Meanwhile, the approximately 100 attending the club’s Monday luncheon meeting were largely white.
One of the few minorities was Ken Battle, who retired from the military and founded Charleston Communities for Change.
“My family has always voted Democratic, but I started finding my beliefs and my ideas weren’t being reflected in what is being expressed in the Democratic Party today,” he said, citing traditional marriage and abortion as examples.
“If we continuously vote 95 percent Democratic, then our vote is not viable,” he said. “Our vote is being taken for granted.”
While Moore, Guillory and Battle noted the party’s abolitionist roots, none talked about the Republicans’ Southern Strategy, a strategy Richard Nixon used to tap white Southern anger with the civil rights and voting rights acts.
“I think we’re in a post-Southern Strategy world,” Moore said later. “What the party is focused on nationally and in South Carolina is, we believe in opportunity for all Americans.”
Also at the meeting, the party heard from Republican Senate District 42 hopeful Billy Shuman, a white real estate agent running in a special Oct. 1 election in a district where 63 percent of the voters are black.
Shuman will face the winner of a six-way Democratic primary, all of whom are black. Charleston County GOP Chairman John Steinberger said, “We can shock the world by having Billy win that seat.”
The seat has been held by an African-American since the Senate fully converted to single-member districts in the 1980s.
Asked how he planned to reach out to minority voters in his campaign, Shuman referred the question to Steinberger.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.