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Chris Christie's minority appeal
The GOP can learn a lot from the no-nonsense governor
Sometimes showing up is half the battle.
Sometimes showing up is half the battle. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
M

itt Romney pulled in a paltry 17 percent of the nonwhite vote in 2012, leading many within the GOP to warn of a possibly fatal demographic drift that could doom the party's presidential prospects for years to come.

The Republican National Committee's "autopsy" report of the election called for massive improvements to the party's minority outreach efforts, but they have not gone particularly well so far. In 2013, Republicans have, among other things, stalled immigration reform and jumped on the chance to pass controversial voter ID laws, which Democrats say disenfranchise poor and minority voters.

And while the GOP received poor marks from just about every voter group after the government shutdown, multiple polls show that women and minority voters are actually less happy with the Republican Party now than they were before.

Enter Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who might be one of a handful of Republicans who can help reverse that trend. More than half of nonwhite voters in New Jersey — 53 percent — approve of the job he has done as governor, according to the latest Farleigh-Dickinson poll. That's not a small feat in one of the most ethnically diverse and Democratic states in the country.

The same poll shows nonwhite voters favoring Christie over his Democratic opponent in the governor's race, state Sen. Barbara Buono, by eight points. That's partly the reason many consider him a shoo-in for a second term.

Also impressive: A September Quinnipiac poll that showed him winning 36 percent of the black vote. As Scott Conroy noted at Real Clear Politics, no Republican presidential candidate, Senate candidate, or gubernatorial candidate has won more than 17 percent of the Garden State's black vote in the last two decades.

That kind of broad support led the Star-Ledger to endorse Christie, calling him "the most remarkable political talent America has seen since Bill Clinton." Like Clinton, Christie has appealed to minority voters by, well, actually reaching out to them.

The Daily Beast's John Avlon explains:

[H]e shows up. At town hall after town hall, Christie has come to inner city communities and answered questions directly, without pandering or prevaricating. Sadly, that itself is a lesson for Republicans, who too often avoid campaigning or appearing in inner-city neighborhoods, compounding their electoral disadvantage by apparent disinterest. [Daily Beast]

It hasn't hurt Christie that he enjoys a productive relationship with President Obama, cooperating extensively (and very publicly) with the president during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. To this day, Christie continues to commend Obama for his performance, in stark contrast to many of Christie's GOP colleagues, who are often perceived as being disrespectful toward the nation's first black president.

Christie is also aiming for the Latino vote by releasing Spanish-language ads, hiring a Latino outreach coordinator, and allying with Democratic leaders in heavily Latino communities.

Take Union City, for example. Christie is no stranger there — probably because it boasts the highest percentage of Latinos of any city in the state. Christie, campaigning there earlier this month, called the city's Democratic mayor, Brian Stack, "the best mayor in the state of New Jersey." (Stack returned the favor by calling Christie "the greatest governor New Jersey has ever had.")

The RNC is taking Christie's efforts to court minority voters seriously, spending $1.5 million to get Latino and black voters to the polls on Nov. 5.

The outreach is paying off. Christie has earned endorsements from major leaders in New Jersey's black and Latino communities, not to mention four-time NBA champion Shaquille O'Neal.

Not that any of this necessarily bodes well for Christie should he run for president in 2016. He'd still need to survive the GOP primary process — in which minority voters make up a relatively small fraction of the electorate, and cooperation with Democrats, particularly Obama, is viewed with deep mistrust.

But it goes to show that, with the right message and policies, Republicans can make a play for voters who have increasingly viewed the GOP as hostile to their interests.

Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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