I've heard a lot of discussion here--and taken part of much of it--about the need to do minority outreach, and the competing strategies people have for achieving this goal. Broadly speaking, there are two camps on this issue. The first is that Republicans need to recruit quality minority candidates to run in either safe Republican seats, or swing seats, thereby diversifying the face of the Republican Party. The other argument is that promoting such minority candidates smacks of "identity politics", and that the right answer is to create a tailored, urban-oriented policy agenda. I guess my response to this either or is an emphatic "yes, both and". To win a traditionally hostile constituency, you need both a stronger message and credible messengers. Rather than endlessly rehashing the arguments about a certain congressional candidate from Utah, however, I would like to suggest here that there's an even more basic element to minority outreach than either changing policy or candidate recruitment: showing up. I think Governor Susana Martinez summed this up rather well a few weeks ago when she pointed out that Republicans have a tendency to show up in heavily Hispanic areas every four years, just in time for the presidential election, and then remain completely absent until the next presidential elections. As Republicans, before we can even think about message or messenger, we've got to actually start trying to build stronger party organization in heavily minority areas. And bluntly put, this means contesting every single election, no matter how Democratic the area.
In some ways, the upcoming IL-02 special election is a pretty good test-bed for this strategy. True, our chances of winning here are very small. True, our chances of holding the seat even if we did win it are even smaller. But if we want to start cracking into highly urbanized minority populations, we've got to start by running serious campaigns even in uphill races. Democrats are headed for what looks like a possible clown-car primary in IL-02, and there's a legitimate possibility it will turn out to be a nasty one. If this happens, Republicans need to stand ready with a viable campaign and plausible nominee who can at least give us a fighting chance in this heavily Democratic seat. And even if Democrats nominate their strongest potential candidate, running a decent campaign in this special election could serve as a potential model for future urban-based campaigns. I'll rely on those familiar with Illinois politics to suggest the type of Republican candidate we should be looking for here, as I don't know the district as well as others on RRH (and please do make such suggestions in the comments thread). However, I think it's a seat worth fighting for, because even if we don't win, a good campaign in a VRA district could, if replicated, do more good for minority outreach than all the minority recruits in safe R seats and urban-oriented policy tweaks we could possibly come up with. When asked why he was a Republican, former representative Joseph Cao replied: "because someone asked me to be". So let's go out and start asking people to vote for us, and possibly join our party, in IL-02.
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