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'Comments' could cost Republicans valuable votes

Last updated on: August 29, 2006 14:14 IST

With President Bush's ratings down, economy at a slow pace and gas prices soaring, the Republicans are down in the dumps especially when one Republican senator described his house painter as a 'little Guatemalan man' while another called a young Indian man a 'macaca,' a type of monkey.

The two recent gaffes have fed the perception among some blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans that Republicans are out of touch with the changing face of the nation just as the Bush's party is pushing for minority voters.

There is disconnection at some level, say some analysts at the George Mason University. The country is becoming browner, they say and new voters, particularly new immigrant voters, do not respond favourably to (offensive) comments.

Reports surfaced last week that Sen Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, called his house painter a 'nice little Guatemalan man' during a speech in June. Burns, whose re-election campaign is pressing for tighter immigration controls, also suggested that the man might be an illegal immigrant. It turns out the worker is legal.

Earlier this month, George Allen, a Republican senator from Virginia, twice referred to an opponent's volunteer using a term for a monkey, considered by some to be a racial slur. 'Let us give a welcome to Macaca here,' Allen said. 

Allen has since apologized to S R Sidarth, who was born in Virginia and is of Indian descent.

Republicans hardly have a lock on offending minorities. Former Democratic Congressman and civil rights leader Andrew Young, who is black, said this month that Asian, Jewish and Arab shopkeepers in black neighbourhoods sold shoddy goods to blacks and drove away their businesses. And, amid protests, the Democratic Party this month pulled an advertisement from its website that compared Hispanic immigrants to terrorists.

But the comments by Burns and Allen have garnered heavy attention as their party is trying to improve its showing among minorities. Neither senator returned phone calls seeking comment, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee,

published from California. It quoted Tara Wall, director of outreach communications for the Republican National Committee, as saying: 'These misstatements are not reflections on the (Republican) party. We have had a long-term commitment to inclusion.'

Wall said that since taking the helm in January 2005, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman has 'stepped up' the party's outreach to minorities. That effort has included holding nearly 100 town hall meetings with Black, Latino and Asian-American groups, she said.

The party also is strongly pushing the candidacies of Black Republicans in upcoming elections: Ken Blackwell for governor of Ohio, Michael Steele for Senate in Maryland and Lynn Swann for governor of Pennsylvania.

This summer, Bush spoke at the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the first time in his presidency. The crowd cheered when he said many blacks do not trust Republicans.

Changes in the voting pattern have already started appearing. In 2004, 46 per cent of Hispanic men, for instance, backed Bush compared to 36 per cent in 2000, according to the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. While only 11 per cent of Blacks voted for Bush in 2004, it still was up from 2000.

But there's a long way to go. Associated Press-Ipsos polls from June to August reveal that 81 per cent of Blacks, 62 per cent of Hispanics and 69 per cent of Asian-Americans identify with Democrats over Republicans and independents.

Outreach to minorities can ring hollow if it is not backed by strong policies, say some partymen. Immigration promises to be a key issue with Latinos in the contentious November elections. A House measure approved last year that will make it a felony for illegal immigrants to be in the US, helped spark massive street demonstrations this spring. Organizers have worked this summer to register more Latino voters and get those who qualify to become citizens.

Many Black voters remain angry over the Bush administration's slow response to Hurricane Katrina last summer, when thousands of New Orleans' poorest residents, mostly Black, faced deadly floods.