Republicans Woo Youths, Hispanics at Convention

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:30pm EDT

New York ( - Republicans are reaching out to young voters and Hispanics at their convention this week, building on themes of the 2000 convention that sparked criticism from their political opponents.

In separate press releases last week, convention organizers hailed the diversity of this year's delegates and promoted a "youth convention" that will feature young GOP stars and celebrities.

Republicans made similar efforts in 2000, which prompted some critics to accuse the GOP of presenting an "illusion of inclusion." George W. Bush won an estimated 35 percent of the Hispanic vote that year and split the vote of 18- to 29-year-olds with Al Gore.

Recent polls show President Bush trailing his Democrat rival, Sen. John Kerry, among both Hispanics and young Americans by even greater margins.

But that hasn't stopped Republicans from giving both constituencies important roles at the convention.

"The Hispanic community's unprecedented participation in the 2004 Republican National Convention is seen through the roster of speakers, events and themes at the convention," said Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Hispanic speakers include the president's nephew George P. Bush, New Mexico Attorney General Brian Sandoval, Arizona businesswoman Carmen Bermudez and Bishop Rene Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas.

The GOP also has asked Latino entertainers Jaci Velasquez and Daniel Rodriguez to perform during the convention.

Members of Spanish-speaking media outlets will have access to unprecedented amounts of information for their audience. Daily press briefings will be conducted in Spanish and the GOP's official convention website is accessible in Spanish.

According to the RNC, the outreach efforts have resulted in more diversity for the party. Hispanics are the largest minority represented at the convention. But they're not alone. Seventeen percent of delegates or alternatives are minorities, up from 6 percent in 1996.

While Tuesday's convention program has been designed to appeal to Hispanics and other minorities, Wednesday will feature the so-called "youth convention."

Bush's twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, plan to headline the event, which also will feature actress Angie Harmon, NFL player Jason Sehorn, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, U.S. Rep. David Dreier (Calif.), Chief of Staff Andy Card, Education Secretary Rod Paige and Gillespie.

The RNC expects 2,500 young people to take part in the event, with the goal of energizing them to campaign for Bush. Youth-oriented groups such as the Young Republicans, College Republicans, Young Hispanic Republican Association and Seeds of Peace will participate.

Convention organizers plan to showcase the winner of MTV's "Stand Up and Holla!" essay contest Wednesday. Princella Smith, a student at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., will speak during the youth event and Wednesday evening.

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