This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," March 10, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Republican recruitment — the GOP (search) casting its eyes on the African-American community as a way to broaden its base of support. Party leaders have been reaching out to black politicians, ministers, and business people. But will it work?
Joining me now is Tara Wall, communications director for the RNC (search) Outreach, and Tony Welch, Press Secretary for the DNC (search).
So, Tara, you first. The president got only 11 percent of the African-American vote last time, although in Ohio, his 16 percent of the African-American vote seemed to be very helpful there.
TARA WALL, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RNC OUTREACH: Well, yes, in Ohio and there were double digits in other areas, like Florida, as well: 13 percent in Florida, 10 percent in Michigan, 18 percent in California.
And in fact, although a lot of folks focused on that two or three percentage increase, which is a gain by any standard, if you look at the individual numbers of African-Americans in 2000, about 864,000 African-Americans voted for President Bush, and in 2004 it was 1.4 million. That's a 70 percent increase in the number of individual African-Americans that voted for President Bush.
And I think it's because he's got such a great leadership in this area, where it comes to reaching out and empowering us from appointments all the way to his policy. And I think there's a real positive message that we have to deliver. And I think it's working, it's resonating. And it's something that, certainly, the Democrats don't want their people to hear.
GIBSON: Well, let's see. Tony Welch, Democrats have good reason to be worried?
TONY WELCH, PRESS SECRETARY, DNC: Well, here's the thing. Whenever we're looking at elections, what Democrats know is that we're going to have to work hard to get every single vote.
I think what's kind of amazing is that Republicans reaching out to African-Americans is news in the year 2005. That's a bit shocking. And you wonder if Republicans pulling out have created a new panel. What I find interesting about that is that its 40 years after the Voting Rights Act, so they didn't do in this in 1975; they didn't do it in 1965; they didn't do it '85, they didn't do it in '95.
And today it's news. It's something they should be doing. I'm just wondering why it took so long.
GIBSON: Tara, you want to handle that?
WALL: Well, that's another part of the smoke and mirrors that Democrats continue to focus on. They're not focusing on the real issues.
We understand we still have a lot of work to do in the black community. We know that; we acknowledge that. The president has said that. He said that before the Urban League. And our Chairman Ken Mehlman has said that.
His message is give us a chance, we'll give you a choice: a choice of home ownership, a choice in education, a choice of faith-based initiatives, a choice in small business. And I think that when these minority communities that we have been going into since Ken Mehlman took over the chairmanship, he has done it actively and aggressively.
When they hear this message, this positive message of the results that this president has made, I think it is absolutely resonating. And we are getting great response. We'll continue to do that. We'll continue to reach out.
GIBSON: Tony, it sounds like your ideological opponent here is very active. And I don't want to accuse you of anything, Tony, but is it possible that the Democrats are taking black voters for granted?
WALL: Oh, they've admitted they have. They've admitted they've taken black voters for granted. Any Democrat [will admit that].
GIBSON: Let's hear Tony answer that one.
WELCH: Tara, I actually get a chance to talk, too. That's kind of how this works.
So, here's the point: what Tara brought up, first, of taking votes for granted, it's something Democrats know we can't afford to do. With the nature of close elections, that's never going to happen. The Democratic Party knows that.
But Tara brought up a great slogan — and they're big on the slogans - - "Give us a chance and we'll give you a choice." I don't think the African-American community wants a choice to be that 77 percent of African- Americans, or I'm sorry, that African-Americans are under-shorted at 77 percent less rate than white Americans are.
I don't think African-Americans want the choice that George Bush would want to cut Pell Grants by millions of dollars. I don't think African- Americans want the choice that this administration hasn't been paying attention to the disparities in health care, or that it tried to alter, for instance, a study on the disparities in health care. Those aren't choices poor folks want.
Now, in those discussions that Republicans have with the African- American community, that's not exactly the type of thing that comes up.
GIBSON: Well, we can find out right here. Tara?
WELCH: I think they'd rather — instead of focusing on their record - they would rather focus on the slogans.
GIBSON: Tony, her turn now. Tara, go ahead and answer those things.
WALL: To my good friend, Tony Welsh, on the other side, I think that's disingenuous of him to say that because this president has shown a clear record. Number one, he has committed to increasing minority home ownership and he's done that by 50 percent. Now 50 percent of minorities own their own homes because of President Bush's initiatives.
He has increased funding for education, he has increased funding for historically black colleges and universities by 30 percent, he has made it easier for small businesses in our community to be able to function easier and better to have start-up costs and be able to not have so much government entangled that they can't function, don't have to go into bankruptcy.
And I think that is a positive message, of course, for our community because these businesses are the backbone of our community...
GIBSON: Tara, before I run out of time, let me ask Tony something.
Tony, a lot of people think if African-Americans had turned out in the numbers John Kerry wanted, John Kerry would have been president. Why didn't that happen?
WELCH: I think African-Americans and Americans overall, turned out in record numbers for Democrats. And the next time around we have to do even better. The fact is, and Tara brought this up, that the president had received more African-American votes this time around. There were actually more African-Americans, by hundred of thousands, that voted against the President this time around, too.
Look, Republicans can only improve in this area. And it's just sad that in 2005, they're making news about this.
GIBSON: Tony, if you're saying they can only improve, does that mean democrats can only get worse in this area?
WELCH: Look, it means we have to work really, really hard. But, if they planted this seed 40 years ago, it'd be a full-grown tree right now.
WALL: I think we have to focus on where we are now. And I think both parties need to continue to work for votes on each side.
I think African-Americans deserve a two-party system. We should both be actively working and engaging for that vote.
GIBSON: Tara Wall, Tony Welch, appreciate it you guys. I think you probably will be arguing about this as you go out into the hall. We will see you next time.
WALL: Thank you for having me.
WELCH: John, thanks a lot.
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