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Story highlights

Jeb Bush said that Democrats win black voters with 'free stuff'

The comment echoed criticism from Mitt Romney in 2012, when he said Barack Obama won minorities with "gifts"

Washington CNN —  

Jeb Bush told a South Carolina crowd Thursday that Democrats play to African-American voters by offering “free stuff,” a similar comment to a contentious one that Mitt Romney made in the days after his 2012 loss to President Barack Obama.

Bush, analyzing Republicans’ chances with black voters, said that his party needs to make a better case to the traditionally Democratic voting bloc.

“Our message is one of hope and aspiration. It isn’t one of division and ‘Get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff,’” Bush said Thursday at an event in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

It was similar to a Romney comment three years ago, in the days after his 2012 loss, where the former Massachusetts governor blamed the outcome, on a call with donors, on Obama’s “gifts” for minority voters.

“What the president, president’s campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote,” Romney said at the time, according to audio obtained by ABC News.

Other Republicans quickly denounced Romney’s comments and party leaders, as part of their assessment of how to win in 2016, determined that they needed to do a better job reaching out to minorities.

A Bush spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment Friday, but declined to address the “free stuff” phrase directly in a reply to The New York Times.

“We will never be successful in elections without communicating that conservative principles and conservative policies are the only path to restoring the right to rise for every single American,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told the Times.

RELATED: Jeb Bush defends attacks against ‘multiculturalism’

Bush’s “free stuff” comment came as he explained another comment, from Tuesday, that the U.S. should not be a “multicultural” society.

“We’re a pluralistic society. We’re diverse, we have people that come from everywhere,” Bush told reporters Thursday. “We’re not multicultural. We have a set of shared values that defines our national identity, and we should never veer away from that because that creates the extraordinary nature of our country.”