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Republican Leader Says Party Must Court Blacks



Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on Monday said his party must take steps to win over Black voters, and he faulted both Democrats and Republicans for failing to address poverty.


Speaking at Philander Smith College, a historically Black college near downtown Little Rock, Steele said Republicans and Democrats need to address poverty in discussions ranging from health care to environmental issues.


“Dr. King would be disappointed in the political leadership of this country for failing to address the least of us,” Steele, who is the first African-American head of the Republican Party, told an audience of more than 500 people at Philander Smith.


Steele offered few proposals on how Republicans or Democrats could help address poverty, instead blaming both parties for not talking about the issue enough.


“We’ve all screwed it up because we focused on the wrong things,” Steele said. “At some point, we’ve got to focus on the right things and those right things start with the people who are concerned about what their tomorrow is going to look like.”


Steele also acknowledged that many African-Americans are frustrated with his party and said the Republicans must reach out to the Black community to remedy the situation. He said the party would need to take “baby steps” to win over Black voters.


He attributed Bill Clinton’s victory in the 1992 presidential race partly on the frustration many African-Americans have with the Republican Party.


“The Republican Party walked away from the Black community in the late 1960s. It was stupid. It was dumb to pursue a southern strategy and it came back to bite them in 1992,” Steele said.


It was Steele’s second visit to Arkansas within a month. President Barack Obama lost the state by 20 points in the November election, but Democrats hold all statewide offices and a majority in the Legislature. Republicans have targeted Democratic U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s seat as she seeks a third term.


In August, Steele visited the state to speak out against Obama’s health care agenda.

On Monday, Steele dismissed one audience member’s suggestion that the Republican Party is blocking Obama’s proposals to overhaul the nation’s health care system. Steele said Obama should try a Democratic-only push to pass health care if he thinks he has the votes.


“It’s a great myth that we’re doing all this blocking. I wish we had that kind of control, but we don’t,” Steele said. “As I’ve said to the president many times, `If that’s the bill you want, vote it up or down, and then we have to live with whatever it is.'”

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