GORHAM, N.H. (AP) – Calling on his party to embrace diversity, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush declared Thursday that Republicans will never win the presidency if they don't campaign in "every nook and cranny" of the country — especially in Hispanic and African-American communities.
"I'm running to draw people toward our cause rather than push them away," Bush said during a town hall-style meeting in New Hampshire. "Our message has to be uplifting, positive, hopeful, rather than negative (and) divisive."
Speaking to a predominantly white audience in northern New Hampshire, Bush said Republicans must campaign in Latino communities. He delivered a brief line in Spanish, as he often does while campaigning. The party's outreach must also extend to black voters, he said.
"I want to be the candidate who goes into the African-American community and says, 'Join our team because our values are the ones that you share,'" he said.
GOP officials are working to broaden the party's appeal beyond older, white voters as the country's demographics change.
Those efforts have been clouded by recent comments by billionaire businessman Donald Trump, who has risen to the top of polls. Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists when he launched his presidential bid last month. Bush's wife, Columba, is Mexican, and Bush has said he was offended by Trump's comments.
The former Florida governor did not mention Trump by name during Thursday's town hall, but he offered a full-throated defense of the need to broaden the party's appeal rather than alienating minorities.
"I'm campaigning in a way that says to everybody 'join us' rather than 'vote for me but you can't join my team,'" Bush said.
Candidates have been confronted with questions of race on the trail for months in response to police killings and rioting in major cities such as Baltimore. Democratic candidate Martin O'Malley recently apologized for telling a group of protesters promoting the slogan "black lives matter" that "all lives matter."
Asked by a reporter, Bush said O'Malley should not have apologized.
"If he believes that white lives matter, which I hope he does, then he shouldn't apologize," Bush said.