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Inside Politics

College GOP group pitching 'big tent'

University of Florida Republicans push for minority voters

By Dwayne Robinson
Special to CNN

Student reporter Dwayne Robinson writes for The Alligator at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.

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• See more work by Dwayne Robinson and his colleagues online at The Alligator external link
Exit polls from 2000 at district at the University of Florida:
•George W. Bush: 527
•Al Gore: 1,015
Source: Alachua County, Florida, Supervisor of Elections

National exit polls from 2000:
•George W. Bush: 50,456,169
•Al Gore:  50,996,116
Campus Vibe
America Votes 2004
University of Florida

Editor's note: Campus Vibe is a feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Dwayne Robinson, student writer at The Alligator, the University of Florida student newspaper. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the University of Florida.

GAINESVILLE, Florida (CNN) -- University of Florida junior Rosey Pierre considers herself to be an "active Democrat," who also comes from largely Democratic family.

Although the political science major said it's unlikely she would become a Republican, she hasn't completely written the party off.

"That doesn't mean I wouldn't vote for a Republican, but I can't see myself [switching parties] unless there's a major reform," said Pierre, who is also a vice president for Club Creole, a student organization for Haitian and French-Caribbean students at the university.

Despite her longtime ties to Democrats, Pierre and other minority voters may be just what the university's Republicans are looking for to help secure a presidential victory in 2004.

"On the domestic side, you find a lot of African-Americans and Republicans having a lot of things in common," said Molly Cox, leader of the university's College Republicans.

"It's just that they aren't associated with [each other] at the state or national level, or we've [Republicans] been looked at as being unfriendly toward [them],'' Cox said. "So I think it's important to change that image."

And the College Republicans are working to do just that. Through an outreach campaign and a debate series, the group plans to target students in traditionally Democratic voting blocs, such as African-Americans, Hispanics and gays.

The group said it is hoping to register 1,000 voters within the next year.

This approach mirrors that of the "big tent" philosophy, held by some members of the Republican Party. It is the belief that the party should cast aside differences on conservative issues such as abortion, making room for people with various and opposing views.

"Everything we do is leading up to the presidential election -- absolutely everything," Cox said.

The outreach campaign will highlight similarities between the party and minority groups, she said.

For example, African-Americans who have strong ties to churches tend to have conservative religious and social values, Cox said.

School vouchers and President Bush's faith-based initiative, which would provide religious charities access to government monies, are also key Republican issues that could attract black voters, she said.

Thomas Jardon, head of the group's student outreach efforts, said that traditional campaigning methods previously have failed to garner significant numbers of black students, which is why the College Republicans will address the Black Student Union and similar groups directly.

Jardon said he personally plans to continue connecting with the Hispanic Student and the Cuban-American Student associations.

Breaking stereotypes

"The primary stereotype of the Republican Party is you have to be white, traditionalist, own a gun and you have to be wealthy," Jardon said. "I myself am Hispanic, so that changes my perspective on a lot of things ... but that lets me reach out to a number of people [who] are Hispanic."

Cox also said the College Republicans plan to appeal to the Catholic-based conservative values among Hispanic groups. They are also interested in organizing a Spanish-language debate next year with Democrats, Jardon said.

A third group that the GOP wants to approach is gay students.

"I don't think you have to come out and say, 'We're out for gay marriage,' to try and win an electorate," Cox said. "I think we share a lot of other values with them that might not necessarily be identified as 'homosexual values.' "

Jardon said he does not think that they will neglect core supporters in their increased effort to attract minority voters. Simply targeting their base is the "easy way out," he said.

"The only way to survive is to grow, and I think that's a very clear truth and reality," Jardon said. "So I think spending the majority of your resources trying to make allies where you didn't have them before is actually the thing you want to be doing."

Both Jardon and Cox said their purpose is to inform and register voters, regardless if they choose the Republican Party or not.

But Pierre exemplifies just how difficult it could be to convert some students.

"I'd be willing to hear what they'd say," she said. "I think it would take more than just a forum [to change party identification] ... especially since I have such close ties and I've been on the Democratic ticket for so long."

College Democrats President Jason Becher said he is not certain the GOP outreach will be successful.

"I think that there's a reason why minorities and groups like that have been voting Democratic so long," Becher said. "Democrats pick issues that are important to minority groups -- for example, affirmative action -- and I'm guessing that's why."

And he said he wouldn't be swayed either.

"I am a Democrat because I believe in the core values of the Democratic Party," he said. "Someone talking to me for a little time is [not] going to change my sincere beliefs."

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