The Miami Herald
Jul. 15, 2004  
GOP courts Haitian Americans


Haitian Americans, who have seen their clout rise in the Democratic Party over the past decade, are now being wooed by Republicans, a sign of the community's burgeoning political power.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, accompanied by boxing promoter Don King, on Thursday swooped into North Miami -- the largest city in the country governed by a Haitian American -- to tout President Bush's record and urge Haitian Americans to the polls.

''I do think there is an opportunity here to get a good chunk of the Haitian-American vote,'' Gillespie told The Herald. ``There's a sense that a little healthy competition is good for everybody. To have the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee vying for the African-American vote, as opposed to one side taking it for granted and the other side not competing vigorously for it, it's good for America.''


Haitian Americans suggest there is room for the GOP to tap into a growing frustration with the Democratic Party that it doesn't represent all blacks, although blacks are the party's most loyal voting bloc. Black voters nearly put Al Gore in the White House with a record turnout in Florida four years ago. Nationwide, nine of 10 blacks rejected President Bush in 2000.

Republican strategists think they have an opportunity this year because they sense that Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, who will need a massive black turnout, has failed to secure the affections of black voters.

GOP strategists believe they have a chance with Haitian Americans. Unlike most African Americans, whose allegiance to the Democratic Party dates back generations, Caribbean Americans are newcomers to American politics.

And Republicans suggest there is a growing number of blacks who are disaffected with some of the more liberal aspects of the Democratic Party and are eager to embrace the GOP message of lower taxes and smaller government. At the same time, the party is looking to capitalize on the White House's increasing engagement with Haiti.

Democrats scoff at the Republicans' recruitment efforts, suggesting Bush has done little for blacks. And they note some are still enraged by the 2000 election, when thousands of black voters in Florida complained their votes were discarded.


Kerry's campaign, criticized for a lackluster effort to reach out to blacks, announced on Wednesday an African-American ad campaign of ''historic proportions'' and that Barack Obama, a black U.S. Senate candidate in Illinois, will deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

At the gathering of about 50 Haitian-American business people, Gillespie touted Gov. Jeb Bush's interest in Haiti. The governor, criticized during his reelection campaign in 2002 for ignoring Haitian concerns, met last month with a group of Haitian-American leaders to discuss the creation of a state task force that will back efforts to rebuild Haiti.

The governor has rejected suggestions that his efforts are politically motivated, but strategists suggest they'll benefit his brother among some Haitian Americans.

The administration's stance on immigration remains problematic, though, and Gillespie largely skirted the issue, referring only to a sweeping immigration proposal the president is pushing to allow millions of illegal immigrants working in the United States to become legal residents.


He brushed off questions about an unpopular Bush policy that forces Haitians fleeing the island to be detained indefinitely while fighting for asylum.

But he suggested that Haitian Americans are supportive of the president's efforts to bring stability to Haiti following the ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bernard Aristide.

''Haitian Americans approve of the president's strong and principled leadership,'' he said.