When television news cameras broadcast sweeping shots of delegates at
the Republican National Convention, viewers will see a sea of red, white and
blue apparel -- and white faces.
As the hurricane-delayed convention gets rolling Tuesday the GOP will present a multi-hued face onstage. Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz, who is Latino, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is of Indian descent, and Utah Congressional candidate Mia Love, who is black, all will speak Tuesday night.
But the 4,411 delegates and alternates watching them in the Tampa Bay Times Forum will be nearly all white, and polls show President Obama -- the nation's first mixed-race president -- with significant advantages among minority voters.
Leading Republicans acknowledge picking up more minority votes is crucial to the party's long-term survival, as the nation becomes less white. From the convention site in immigrant-heavy Florida to the roster of speakers to daily briefings for Latino reporters, Republicans are attempting to court minority voters. Latinos are a particular target, as they are the nation's fastest growing demographic and have been more of a swing group than traditionally Democratic black voters.
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said both parties have been reaching out to Latinos more than ever this year in light of the 2010 census showing a booming Latino population. National conventions present a heavily watched showcase for that effort.
"It's part of that sort of acceptance of the fact that this is a segment of the electorate that has to be incorporated in an institutional way, and ultimately that's what we want to see," Vargas said.
But the Republican Party platform includes a strict stance on illegal immigrants that has been embraced by soon-to-be presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who during the GOP primary floated the idea that some immigrants could "self-deport."
"It's policy more than anything else," said Larry Sabato, the head of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "In the end that matters more than all the symbolic gestures in the world."
This year, 46 Republican delegates are African-American, or about 2 percent of the total, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. That is up from 36 in 2008, which was the lowest number in 40 years, but far less than the 167 black delegates in 2004, which was the highest since 1912, said David Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center.
The Joint Center does not track Latino or other minority delegates, but the Republican convention is likely to have more Hispanic delegates than African-Americans, he said.
Bositis found that 26 percent of the 4,000-plus delegates to the 2012 Democratic National Convention are African-American. He estimates that at least 40 percent of the Democratic delegates will be from minority groups.
Bositis said the Democratic Party has appealed to African-American voters for years while Republican leaders and voters were seen as hostile to the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Joint Center has collected delegate diversity data for more than 40 years but ran into some states withholding information or refusing to provide
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