The Republican National Committee announced Tuesday the addition of three longtime African American party activists who will be charged with helping attract black voters, particularly in battleground states during the fall presidential election.
Ashley Bell, who eight years ago appeared on stage at the Democratic National Convention, was named national director of African American political engagement for the RNC. Shannon Reeves, a political science professor at Alabama A&M University, will provide statistical and data assistance to help the party identify black voters. Elroy Sailor, a former aide to former congressman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) and who worked on Sen. Rand Paul's presidential campaign, will offer statistical and political guidance to the party.
“With these new additions to our Strategic Initiatives team, we are growing our long-term commitment to engaging with Black voters and being the Party that promotes new models to solve old problems,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “One of the RNC’s key goals has been to take our message to the Black community and make the case why we are the only party capable of delivering prosperity, security, and freedom for every neighborhood in America."
In a brief interview, Bell was asked how the party planned to persuade African Americans to support Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee who is polling in the low single digits among black voters in several national surveys.
Bell said that Trump had hired "some good people to manage his African American engagement" and that he, Sailor and Reeves would assist them as needed. For instance, if the campaign needs data on black voters, Reeves would help.
In combined July and August polls by the Washington Post and ABC News, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton led Trump 91 to 3 percent among black voters. In the latest survey, 91 percent of African Americans reported an unfavorable view of Trump, including 79 percent who felt “strongly unfavorable,” his most negative ratings among any demographic group in the survey. By contrast, 71 percent of black Americans saw Clinton favorably, while 28 percent were unfavorable; 86 percent approved of Obama’s job performance.
After its poor showing among black, Hispanic and female voters in 2012, the RNC commissioned a study and came up with a plan to improve its standing with those groups, which make up an increasingly larger share of the electorate. But Trump has repeatedly inflamed racial and religious tensions by attacking Hispanics and Muslims. He also had made offensive comments toward women and mocked a journalist who has a congenital condition that affects his joints. In recent weeks, several high-profile Republicans — including Sally Bradshaw, a confidante of Jeb Bush, who helped write the post-2012 election report — have announced that they will support Clinton over Trump.
Bell argued that the November contest between Trump and Clinton "is not a national race, it's a state-by-state race." He pointed to Georgia as an example of a state where boosting African American support for Trump would be crucial. A statewide poll shows Trump and Clinton tied there, he said. "In a state like that, the race could hinge on the black vote," Bell said. "Politics is always local and our goal is to make sure that the people on the ground have the resources they need, messaging and tools, to engage African American voters."
Bell, a former county commissioner in suburban Atlanta, helped to launch a bipartisan group of African American elected officials and community activists called the 20/20 Leaders of America. Their focus during the current election cycle has been on criminal justice, and they held forums during the Republican and Democratic conventions to discuss the issue. Bell also was one of about 1 1/2 dozen African American delegates to the Republican National Convention.
Notably absent among the outreach team's senior advisers is a woman. African American women voted at a higher rate than any other demographic in the past two election cycles. The news release notes that Leah LeVell, a senior at Georgia State University, is working with the team as a "fellow," focusing on reaching out to millennials and students at historically black colleges and universities. Her father, Bruce LeVell, is chairman of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.