With eye on 2024, Georgia GOP gears up to recruit minority voters to bigger tent

The outline of a Georgia map with the GOP red white and blue elephant in the center

by Aaleah McConnell, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

June 16, 2023

COLUMBUS – As the 2024 election approaches, Georgia conservatives are concerned about the direction of the party, and the tension between establishment Republicans and Donald Trump supporters is especially fraught.

But a growing number of Black and brown voters in the Georgia GOP say more needs to be done to bridge the divide between conservatives of color and the party’s leadership. 

“Do we really want Blacks in the Republican Party? Because if we do, then why do we treat Black people like they are some oddity to be approached?” Catherine Davis said to a predominantly white audience at a minority outreach seminar at the Georgia GOP Convention in Columbus last weekend.

Davis is the founder and president of the Restoration Project, a predominantly Black anti-abortion organization run on Christian values. Davis said she was raised in a conservative Black household and is tired of the lack of attention paid to issues important to communities of color that the right claims to support. 

“That’s been the problem with the Republican Party since I came here in 1995,” Davis said. “You always say why bother, because (African Americans) just vote Democrat? Well, why don’t we try asking? We want school choice. We want criminal justice reform. We are tired of our young men who sold a bag of weed going to jail for life. You know, we want these discrepancies (fixed). That’s how you reach the Black community. You talk to us, like we’re people who have common interests.”

The all-African American panel included Shelley Wynter, host of conservative radio talk show “Word on The Street,” and CEO Linda Vega and COO, Karen Hosey of McDonough-based First Capital Solutions. 

Some of the issues raised in the name of diversity were seemingly part of the progressive brand. However, much of the 90-minute discussion focused on right-wing priorities like the 2020 voter fraud allegations, anti-illegal immigration and anti-LGBTQ policies. 

Panelists agreed most conservative leaders remain tone-deaf to the needs of various races and ethnicities within the Republican Party.

“Too often, minority communities have been manipulated,” Hosey said. “Because during election season, everybody comes to their church; election season, everybody comes to the barbecue; election season, everybody comes to the graduation.”

“We’ve got to be visible in the community talking to people all the time, you’ve got to realize there’s distrust in the minority community. So we’ve got to break that down first. And we break that down by being authentic, being consistent and being intentional.”

Turned off by Obama

Kesha Kennings, a Dallas, Georgia woman and Navy veteran, was one of a handful of Black voters who attended the seminar. Kennings said she did not always vote Republican but grew displeased with the Democratic Party when President Barack Obama took office.

“I started paying attention to politics when Obama was in office in 2008. And I noticed how he was getting wealthy, but the Black community was not. So that was a turn off for me and why I voted the opposite way in 2012,” Kennings said. “The fact that many major cities (run) by Democrats, specifically Black people, in those communities aren’t getting better. The crime isn’t getting better, the education system is getting worse. The property values are getting bad because of gentrification – moving Black people out, tearing down what they built to bring in condos that they can’t afford.” 

The panelists say they see an opening with some minority voters who they argue have grown disenchanted with the Democratic Party.

“So the distrust in the minority communities for government and political parties started a long time ago,” Wynter said. “However, what you will find in minority communities particularly in African American communities, after every election, they will say the same thing. I was forced to vote with the lesser of two evils. No one in a minority community whether Hispanic, Black, Asian, feels that they’re ever voting for the person that they like.” 

And Vega said if the party shifted its focus on building up small businesses, particularly in the Black community, the Republican Party could have a more diverse group of supporters. 

“Everyone has to put food on their table, everybody has to have a roof over their head,” Vega said. “And under this administration, the nation is hurting. And so I think that the Republican Party has a huge opportunity here to really shift the dynamics for our party.”

Looking ahead to the 2024 election

Georgia is again considered a swing state for 2024, and though African Americans consistently vote for Democrats, about 4% Latino voters and 12% of Black voters lean Republican.  

The Republican presidential primary field is the most diverse it has been in years. That provides potential for Republicans to pick up more of the minority votes, especially among people who identify as independents.

The Republican presidential candidates so far include conservative talk show host Larry Elder and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, both African Americans. Also, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez of Cuban descent and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who is of Indian descent.

Political science professor at Kennesaw State University and former chairman of the Cobb County Republican Party, Jason Shepherd, said the value that minority voters add to the party needs to be tapped into well ahead of the election.

“The Republican coalition can go all the way from people who believe that you’re about to fall off the Earth to reasonable people who understand the world is round,” Shepherd said. “To win you have to have a majority, which means you need not only Republicans but people who don’t consider themselves Republicans, but generally speaking, agree with the base principles of the conservative principles.

“Minority communities, generally speaking, kind of have the same values and that’s why you see Hispanics, but also to a smaller extent African Americans, come to the Republican Party. There’s a crisis in the Democratic Party that pops up in stories every once in a while, but constituent minority groups in the Democratic Party are feeling more and more isolated and alienated by party leadership.”

Panelists urged delegates at the conference to vote in their best interest for party chair, and not just for the popular candidate. Former state Sen. Josh McKoon won his bid to chair the Georgia GOP.

Rebecca Yardley, who was the runner up to McKoon, argued the party should do more to connect with voters of color.

“When we talk about minority engagement, I believe that what the Georgia Republican Party has been doing is completely wrong,” said Yardley, who is white. “It’s actually insulting in some ways, we knock on the door at election time, we say we want to have your vote. And we never graced the doorsteps of those communities again.

“When we talk in our minority communities, we find that jobs, education, safety, those are the same things that are important to them just like they are to me. And so when we start building relationships, not just thinking of people as a vote, that’s what we’ve got to do if we want to continue to be successful.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.