Republicans point to record levels of diversity among delegates to their upcoming convention, though the GOP isn't close to matching the makeup of the U.S. population overall or the Democratic delegation that met last month in Boston.

About 17 percent, or roughly 800 of the 4,700-plus delegates and alternates to this month's Republican National Convention (search) will be minorities, party officials have said. That's up from 10 percent four years ago and 6 percent in 1996.

"We've turned an important corner in some of our grass-roots networking and we've seen the results," said Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (search), a delegate who is the first black in that state's history to win statewide elective office.

The percentages fall short of the race and ethnic makeup of the country overall. According to the most recent Census Bureau (search) estimates, about 32 percent of U.S. residents in 2003 were of a minority background.

But Steele says striving to meet census percentages would smack of a "quota system that we just don't buy into," and that the party's goals were "to reflect the ideals and aspirations of America."

Eunice Jeffries, 34, a black delegate from Farmington Hills, Mich., says the incremental steps are important so "that this party finally sends a message that it's not just a party of elite white Americans."

The Democratic National Committee (search) has said 38 percent of its convention delegates were minorities. An Associated Press survey of roughly three-fourths of the 4,300-plus Democratic delegates found that about 31 percent were minority. The AP's survey of Republican delegates is ongoing.

Democrats have criticized the Republican disparities as an example of a GOP agenda out of touch with minorities.

Many GOP officials and delegates, though, say the increased diversity this year is testament that the results of some of President Bush's economic policies — such as increases in minority homeownership and minority-owned small businesses — are being felt by all Americans.

The Republican National Convention is scheduled for Aug. 30-Sept. 2 in New York City.