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Republican Leaders, Black Conservatives Gather to Discuss Party’s Outreach Plan

Republican officials met Monday with black conservatives led by columnist Armstrong Williams to discuss how the party can attract more black voters and candidates.

As the party is still feeling the effects of remarks Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) made at then-Sen. Strom Thurmond’s (R-S.C.) 100th birthday party that forced Lott to resign as Majority Leader, Republicans are trying to show the black community that their party is inclusive.

“We had a very candid and thoughtful discussion,” Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot told reporters after participants in the two-hour meeting dispersed. “We talked about what we have done in the African-American community and what we intend to do in the future. We talked about some very concrete steps” that can be taken, he said.

Williams, who also has a daily television and radio show and owns a production company, said the “Republican strategy in the past hasn’t been the best” but that the election of black Republicans in several states, including Michael Steele as Maryland’s lieutenant governor, is a good starting point for the party.

During the meeting, which Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) also attended, participants spoke “honestly about bigotry,” Williams said. “The Republican Party must realize that they cannot be lily-white any longer.”

He said that President Bush built a good foundation for attracting blacks to the party when he included some in his Cabinet and appointed many others to top posts within the administration. Williams noted that 25 percent of those serving in the Bush administration are black.

Racicot said the strategy mapped out in the meeting is a long-term one.

“We’re not going to be done with this at the end of this election cycle,” he said.

Democrats began lobbing accusations that Republicans are not sincere in their overtures toward blacks before the meeting even ended.

“Since 1980, the GOP has attempted a ‘minority outreach’ program in every presidential cycle, and their efforts have always failed.” Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said in a statement. “If the GOP was truly sincere about healing the wounds re-opened by Trent Lott’s statements, they wouldn’t have immediately re-nominated Charles Pickering to a lifetime appointment on the second-highest court in the country.”

Frist came out on Sunday in support of the controversial judge who did not receive a confirmation hearing last year because of concern over his civil rights record.

Meeting participants sidestepped the issue Monday.

When a black reporter tried to ask Williams about the Pickering nomination after he had ended the press conference, he responded: “Sister, we’re not dealing with that today.”

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