By WALTER C. JONES
ATLANTA — In a scene that is repeating in the back rooms of restaurants all across the state, long-time political activists listen to party operatives explain what they need to do to thrive in the face of huge demographic changes sweeping Georgia.
The setting and script is almost identical regardless of whether the message is given to a Republican crowd or a Democratic one. Leaders in both have concluded they must do things differently if they want to attract voters who are younger or part of ethnic minorities.
In the back of a Golden Coral on a Saturday morning in Newnan, members of the Coweta County Republican Party listened intently to Jessica Szilagyi, campaign manager for Delvis Dutton’s unsuccessful congressional run and author of the Perspicacious Conservative blog. The 26-year-old explained how people of her generation have unique media-consumption habits that make it difficult to reach them through mass media.
“Our parents listened to their Walkman cassettes, and if they wanted to hear a different song, they had to fast forward all the way to the end,” she told the room full of silver-haired party faithful. “We grew up with MP3 players and now listen on our smartphones, and if we don’t like what we’re hearing, we can change it instantly with a flick of our finger.”
Targeting black voters
And Leo Smith, the Georgia Republican Party’s minority-outreach director, told the predominately white crowd that the secret to gaining support from black voters like him and other minorities is engagement rather than outreach. The difference, he said, was like when his mother instructed him as a child to invite a seemingly shiftless neighbor to help with the family garden in exchange for vegetables.
The man turned out not to be as lazy as the young Smith had thought and instead was an expert gardener.
“The difference was he pitched in when we showed we were ready to listen to him,” Smith said.
Over dinner Tuesday night in a back room of the Ashiana Restaurant & Banquet Hall in Norcross, members of the Red Clay Democrats are the audience hearing the same message from a panel of operatives mapping tactics for expanding the party to blacks and recent immigrants.
Eyeing other minorities
Sebastian Parra, a Columbia native who worked for the Democratic Party of Georgia on outreach while attending Georgia State University, noted that surveys show immigration is nowhere near the top concern for most Asian and Latino voters. Personal finances are.
“When it means your pocket, you’re going to be caring more,” he said.
It is a point Smith had made in his own talk.
Parra also talked about developing a relationship with the members of various groups long before asking them to vote, just as Smith had a week earlier.
That’s one reason the leaders of the national Republican and Democratic parties came separately to Georgia last week. They understand the changing demographics make the Peach State a battleground and that now is the time to dig the foxholes for the critical campaigns of 2016, ‘18 and ‘20.
“We need to be a year-round party,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus said in Marietta Tuesday. “We need to be a party that is engaged full time in black, Hispanic and Asian communities. Not just once in a while, but all the time.”
Thursday, his counterpart at the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, met with reporters before a three-day leadership meeting in Atlanta.
“We are here because the DNC is expanding the map, spreading the Democratic message, and we plan to turn Georgia blue,” she said.
She announced a $60 million, multiyear program to bring new voters to the party.
As the two parties use a combination of sophisticated technology and old-fashioned human interaction to appeal to people on the sidelines, they both face the same conundrum. These people don’t automatically fit the philosophical molds of the parties.
Blacks and Hispanics like the social conservatism of Republicans but the social spending of Democrats. Young people and Asians like the GOP’s fiscal conservatism but the Democrats’ social policies.
Perhaps good will come from the battle, according to Tim Hur, co-chair of the Georgia Democrats Asian-American Caucus.
As he told the Red Clay crowd, “We’re not alone. Both parties are doing this. … If you believe in competition, you should be doing this for the good of the country.”
Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998. Follow him on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
via ANALYSIS: Demographic shifts force parties to change | Dining Guide.