Regina Roundtree, founder of Connecticut Black Republicans and Conservatives, is hoping to help Republicans make in-roads into the state’s urban communities, which have long been bastions of Democratic support.
Roundtree, a Farmington Republican, outlined her outreach initiative Monday during a press conference, held in the state Capitol’s Hall of Flags just before the annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday ceremony.
She said was drawn to the party based on its positions rather than the individual personalities involved with its politics. She said she hopes that an issues-based approach will resonate in urban communities where Democrats have traditionally had strong support.
“The platform for the party spoke to me. I think what’s happened is we’ve not been able to just come with a simple message of ‘look at the platform, look at what it is. People come and go but the platform remains the same,’” she said.
However, Roundtree said it has been hard for Republicans to establish political clout in the inner cities and trying to establish a network of Black Republicans has been difficult.
“I will say that it is very hard to find Republicans of color in Connecticut. It’s like an underground railroad,” she said.
But by forming her group, Roundtree said she has gotten the state’s Republican Party excited about reaching out to urban communities.
“My phone rings a lot now. My emails are full because we understand as a party that we’ve ignored the urban communities. Many times it’s about not knowing what to do as opposed to the idea that they don’t care about the poor or they don’t care about minorities. They’re not sure how to reach out,” she said.
Roundtree said she plans to target 10 Connecticut cities for outreach this year: Hartford, Bloomfield, Windsor, Norwich, New London, Meriden, New Britain, New Haven, Waterbury, and Bridgeport. She said she has named “team captains” in those communities who will attend local government meetings and other community events.
She is hoping her group can have an impact on statewide races in 2014 like the gubernatorial race as well as elections for other constitutional officers. Roundtree said she also is interested in the election for the 5th Congressional District seat currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty.
She said her strategy is to build a grassroots movement around policies like education and job training.
“It’s going to take a long time to build trust, it’s going to take a long time to build in-roads into the urban communities and talk to them about the opportunities within the party,” she said.
Roundtree said she expects that some conservative policies could appeal broadly. There are also community-specific issues that may get others involved, she said. In Bloomfield, issues impacting homeowners may resonate. Meanwhile, in Hartford, conservative positions on education issues could gain support from minority voters.
“As I looked around at other inner cities throughout our state that were suffering through economic decline, I realized that it was a one-party system and how could we bring accountability to those communities if there wasn’t a balance of power,” she said.
Roundtree said Republicans should try to frame their ideas for fiscal conservatism and limited government in a way that resonates with urban communities where most residents are renters rather than homeowners.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a Fairfield Republican who is running for governor, called Roundtree a “dynamic and exciting leader.”
“Regina and the people standing here today are proof-positive that the Republican Party is alive and well all across the state of Connecticut,” he said.
McKinney said he believes Republicans can garner support in the inner cities through a sustained outreach effort.
“It’s about meeting people on the ground, talking to them about everyday concerns that they have in their lives,” McKinney said. “Bridgeport, Hartford have higher unemployment rates. It’s about going there, talking to them about how our ideas can help create jobs . . . Those types of ideas, you can’t do from Hartford, you can’t do through a campaign ad.”
In 2010, the governor’s race was the tightest in recent memory and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s votes came from his overwhelming support in the cities. However, that year, even inner ring suburbs that were reliably Democratic in the past went for Republican candidate Tom Foley.
In fact, Foley received more votes on the Republican line than Malloy did on the Democratic line in 2010. It was the votes on the Working Families Party line that put Malloy over the top.
Records show that Foley received 560,874 votes compared to Malloy’s 540,970 on the Democratic ballot line. But Malloy received 26,308 votes on the Working Families Party line, giving him a 6,404 vote victory over Foley.
In November 2013, Democratic voters still outnumbered Republicans in the state, but unaffiliated voters still outnumbered each party. According to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office, there are 741,340 Democrats, 414,711 Republicans, and 842,723 unaffiliated voters registered.