Jack Ciattarelli was at a Republican gathering the other night with about 200 people. About 190 of them were white.
Ciattarelli, the presumed GOP gubernatorial candidate, related that story this afternoon during a discussion via Zoom with three of the state’s leading African-American Republicans.
An overly white crowd of supporters is not a unique problem for Republicans.
Ciattarelli optimistically said he considers expanding the racial footprint of the party not a problem, but a “challenge.”
He said one way to meet the challenge is not to spend all your time in “comfortable, Republican circles.” Said less politely, that seems to mean that a GOP candidate can’t just hang out with old, white people.
Ciattarelli says he is working to expand his campaign. He talked about visiting black churches, food banks in inner-city communities and helping distribute personal protection equipment in Newark.
All that is good, said his panel, which was composed of LD-1 Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, Sea Bright Councilman Jeff Booker and Melanie Collette, the vice chair of the Cape May Republican Party.
But that’s not all of it. The panel said such visits just can’t be at election time or on Martin Luther King Day.
McClellan said one has to “make a concerted effort to go to the black community once a week.”
Booker added, “It has to be year after year after year.”
Clearly, that takes time, but, in truth, the GOP’s problem with black voters didn’t happen overnight either.
Collette added that it’s important for a politician making the rounds not to lump the views of all African-Americans together. She said it must be remembered that blacks in Cape May County may have different concerns than those elsewhere in New Jersey.
On the belief there’s nothing better than candid conversation, McClellan urged Ciattarelli to visit a barber shop, long a meeting place in the black community. Don’t worry about a formal “focus group,” he said, just show up and listen. McClellan said a barber shop conversation differs from what a visitor hears in church.
Ciattarelli liked the idea.
As you would expect at a Republican gathering, there was agreement among all that Phil Murphy has failed the black community. Panelists mentioned the governor’s opposition to charter schools and the ongoing failure of Democrats in Trenton to put together a marijuana policy that stops young minorities from being arrested. Ciattarelli and his guests all favored decriminalizing pot over outright legalization, which voters backed last fall.
Still, there are obstacles to broadening the GOP’s base, some of which exist among minorities themselves.
With so many blacks voting Democratic, Collette said blacks who declare to be Republicans can face shaming from their own families and friends.
“You have to be a strong person and be adamant about your opinions,” she said.
There is actually some indication, albeit slight, of change.
Most exit polls show that President Trump did better with black voters in 2020 than he did in 2016. Blacks still voted overwhelmingly Democratic, but their support of Republicans notched up a bit.
Near the end of the hour-long session, Ciattarelli offered a blunt assessment.
Unless Republicans broaden their base, “We’re going to continue to lose elections in New Jersey.”