Artur Davis: GOP won’t make gains with blacks, should focus on Latinos and blue collars

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In the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat, former Alabama Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, one of the president’s most famous detractors, stressed the Republican Party’s need to expand its appeal among Latinos and white working-class voters.

In an post-election interview, the four-term former Democratic representative — who seconded the official nomination of Barack Obama in 2008 and went on to speak at the 2012 Republican National Convention — told The Daily Caller that Romney’s single-minded focus on the economy was a big factor in his loss on Election Day.

“The problem with the message that was focused exclusively on the economy is that economic numbers change,” he said. “And you saw that, over the course of the campaign, it was not uncommon back in January and February for Romney and other Republicans to describe the economy as the worst economy that we had had in — fill in the blank, some would say a generation, some would say since the depression. As the year progressed, even though the rate of job growth was tepid by historic standards, you saw measurable movement in consumer confidence over the course of this year.”

The former Democrat pointed out that polls showed that only about 20 percent of Americans believed that the country was heading in the right direction throughout much of 2011. That number more than doubled by Election Day, when exit polling found that 46 percent of voters said they believed the country was heading in the right direction.

“A message that was focused exclusively on the economy wasn’t going to be enough to win as the economy started to slowly, grudgingly make its way back,” Davis said, adding that Romney should have focused on the president’s failure to live up to his promised role of partisan unifier.

“When Gov. Romney began to speak about that aspect of Obama’s failings beginning with the first debate, you started to see his numbers move ,and you also started to see his favorable numbers move dramatically,” he said. “I am convinced that there was a group of Americans who were firmly prepared to defeat Obama simply on one ground, that Barack Obama did not produce the kind of promise and reunification of the country he talked about four years ago.”

The campaign needed to court that group of voters “aggressively” and for a longer amount of time than just the weeks before the election, Davis explained.

Romney also lost on Tuesday because of the Obama campaign’s superior ability to target messaging to specific pockets of voters in swing states, Davis continued.

Davis said the Obama campaign effectively targeted professional women in Virginia with aggressive attacks on Romney’s position on reproductive rights. He added that the Obama campaign also successfully zeroed in on voters in Ohio and Wisconsin voters by focusing on the auto bailout, which Davis said cost Romney those two states.

Davis was pessimistic about Republicans’ ability to make inroads among African-American voters, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama on Election Day. A whopping 93 percent of black voters cast ballots for the president, compared to only 6 percent for Romney.

“There was never any realistic prospect that any Republican nominee was going to get more than a negligible African-American vote,” he said.

“The African-American community now associates the Democratic Party with Barack Obama’s advancement, and it associated the Republican Party with opposition to Obama,” Davis said, later adding that currently “in the African-American community, there is a belief that anyone who does not embrace Barack Obama is a racist. It is a common belief in the African-American community that to repudiate Obama must require some kind of racism.”

Republicans’ apparent inability to court blacks mirrors Democrats’ inability to court Southern white evangelicals, Davis added.

Davis explained that even if the GOP picked up a noteworthy and capable black politician in a state or local race, the party should not expect to garner more than about 30 percent of the black vote in those more localized races.

Instead of focusing on African-Americans, Davis said, the GOP should target Latinos and working-class white voters.

“Republicans are going to have to strengthen our appeal to blue collar voters who, frankly have been very negatively impacted by the economy in the last four years and who disagree with Barack Obama on a range of cultural issues,” Davis said, noting that blue collar workers in the decisive industrial states voted for Obama because they saw Republicans as “unacceptable … economic royalist” defenders of Wall Street.

Davis stressed the need for Republicans to recover their support among Latinos, noting that it will be impossible for Republicans to win states like Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada without the Latino vote.

“I think the Republican Party is going to have to start talking about immigration in a different way. Too many in the Republican Party talk about immigration as a threat to the culture. Too many in the Republican Party talk about immigration as a threat to America having a particular identity.”

“It is doubly important, because unlike African-Americans, many Hispanics are conservative,” he added. “Unlike African-Americans, many Hispanics — many Hispanic businessmen do not support a strong, aggressive role for government.”

Davis noted that, throughout 2010 and 2011, Obama’s approval rating among Latinos was rarely above 50 percent.

Exit polls had Latinos supporting Obama 71 percent, compared to Romney’s 27 percent.

“These are voters who are faith oriented, who are very conservative with many issues, who are entrepreneurial in many cases and who did not have any emotional relationship to Barack Obama at all, those are votes that Republicans could and should have won.”

Davis — who some say might eventually run for office in Virginia — said he will now focus his efforts on helping the Republican Party become a pro-innovation, pro-reform party that appeals to more voters.

“At the end of the day, that is a process that might take two to four years to really make that assessment. Today my focus is trying to help strengthen the Republican Party, first and foremost here in Virginia — a state we should have won at the Senate and presidential level.”

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Caroline May