On the GOP's 'huge' 10 percent of black vote

Leo Smith, the perpetually upbeat director of minority engagement for the Georgia GOP, was still fired up this afternoon following his party's big wins the other night.

A lot of the instant analysis focused on Republicans' runaway with the white vote, but Smith also pointed to the party's noticeable gains with minority voters, where he toiled for a year.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who pushed criminal justice reform when courting black voters, took 10 percent of the African-American vote, according to exit polls. Senator-elect David Perdue took 7 percent.

"Those are huge numbers," Smith declared in a phone interview. And they are when compared to Sen. Saxby Chambliss' 4 percent in 2008, the most recent year we had exit polling in Georgia.

Among Latinos, Republicans fared far better: Deal took 47 percent and Perdue got 42 percent. Compare that with 27 percent for Mitt Romney across the nation in 2012. (There weren't enough Latino voters in Georgia in 2008 for a reliable exit poll; same goes with Asians this year.)

Smith has worked for more than a year to find black Republicans as validators in the community and the media that it was OK to vote GOP. The party's black Republican council worked behind the scenes to keep the party from "walking into potholes" and convinced Republican leaders to support a Martin Luther King Jr. statue at the Capitol.

The next order of business is to create a similar Latino Republican council. Smith said Latinos and Asians are more open to being Republicans because they do not have a multi-generational emotional tie to Democrats that African-Americans do through the civil rights movement.

Referring to the Democrats' "fearmongering" Ferguson mailer, Smith said:

"That’s the kind of stuff that I think happens when you think that you’ve got a voting bloc entirely under your control and you don’t offer them anything of substance, you can just manipulate them. ...

Other groups are wonderful to work with because they still believe they can be a valuable player on either side of the aisle of politics. They can provide a powerful example to black Americans on how you can have your agenda placed higher."

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