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How the RNC will compete for the black vote

By Orlando Watson
updated 1:56 PM EST, Mon February 10, 2014
The Republican National Committee is increasing outreach to African-Americans with new videos.
The Republican National Committee is increasing outreach to African-Americans with new videos.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Orlando Watson says Republicans stepping up outreach to the black community
  • National committee's ad campaign is not enough, he says; we're doing much more
  • Watson says RNC is hiring black engagement state directors across the country

Editor's note: Orlando Watson is the Republican National Committee's communications director for black media. Previously, he worked for Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona. Follow him on Twitter @orlandowatson.

(CNN) -- Last week, in her opinion piece titled "GOP's slick Black History ads fall short, miss the point," Andra Gillespie praised the Republican National Committee's recent Black History Month ads as a positive development, but she criticized us because those ads "were not enough."

She's right. They're not enough, and we never suggested they were.

In fact, the ads, titled "Honoring Our Past, Building the Future," are just part of our Black History Month tribute, which in turn is just part of our year-round, nonstop engagement efforts with black voters and communities across the country.

Following the release of the RNC's Growth and Opportunity Project report last spring, the RNC, under Chairman Reince Priebus' leadership, set out to do things differently in the way it engages with minority voters. The need was especially urgent in my community, the black community. It's there, in the black community, where we have the most ground to make up.

Orlando Watson
Orlando Watson

In less than a year, the RNC has made strides to restart the conversation and build a presence in black communities across the country.

As Priebus noted at our second annual Black Republican Trailblazer Awards, we've hired black engagement state directors "from Michigan to Louisiana, Virginia to Colorado and in between."

The RNC is hiring people who are from the community to work in the community, so they can get to know people and build relationships. These efforts are critical because people, regardless of background, don't always care what you know until they know that you care.

Growing the party and recruiting the next generation of black Republicans require that we build relationships in places we haven't always been.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that even that is not enough. But it's a big start in a short period of time and a major step in the right direction. The RNC recognizes that no matter how significant our efforts, we can't do it alone, but we do want to set an example for our fellow Republicans.

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In November, Priebus traveled to Detroit and hosted a round-table discussion with black business and community leaders at which he shared the party's vision for reviving our urban centers. The response was phenomenal.

Many Republicans have stepped up to take similar actions, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Sens. Rand Paul, Rob Portman and Marco Rubio. They've shown they're serious about growing the party and addressing voters' concerns through policy proposals, listening sessions and visits to communities across the county.

We're happy to see that these Republicans realize the importance of engagement efforts not only for the sake of our party but for the future of our country.

Unfortunately, when our efforts get discussed, it seems like they are always viewed only through the lens of political tactics.

But the very reason that Republicans seek to hold office is because we know that our principles, if properly applied, will improve lives by empowering people and communities.

This includes offering parents a choice as to where their children go to school and fighting for adults who need jobs now.

So while I appreciate Andra bringing attention to our efforts, I hope she'll take the time to consider the breadth and depth of our engagement efforts in the black community. I hope she wasn't ignoring them for the sake of diminishing our work to score political points.

Regardless, the hard work continues, because no matter what, it's never enough. As long as there are voters who we haven't heard from or that haven't heard from us, there's work to do.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Orlando Watson.

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