BOSTON – Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told a national convention of black journalists on Thursday that the GOP has been working to better compete for black and minority votes as it eyes the 2016 presidential race.
Priebus also said he’s confident the party will take back the U.S. Senate from Democrats and add more seats to its majority in the U.S. House in this year’s midterm elections.
“It’ll be a good year,” Priebus told the annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists. “We’re a very good midterm party.”
But Priebus, the RNC chairman since 2011, said the national party’s focus continues to be rebuilding a campaign “ground game” that’s been outperformed by Democrats, particularly in recent presidential races.
“We have become a national party that has decided it is OK to show up every four years, about five months before an election,” he said. “We’ve become a national party that’s really just a U-Haul trailer of cash for a presidential nominee.”
Priebus, who has been largely credited with boosting fundraising and erasing the GOP’s debt since taking over as chairman, touted outreach efforts that began soon after the 2012 campaign, when presidential candidate Mitt Romney garnered just 6 percent of the black vote nationally.
He said paid staff and roughly 500 volunteers are involved in a “full-time engagement program” geared to black, Latino and Asian voters. That effort has yielded more than “150,000 voter contacts” in about 15 states, he said.
Priebus said the GOP is also working to diversify” its staff but acknowledged it “must do even more” at the senior level.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” said Priebus. “We’ve got to get this right.”
Priebus, in an interview with CNN’s Michaela Pereira and Fox News’ Kelly Wright following his prepared remarks, defended his party’s push for state laws requiring voters produce identification before casting a ballot.
Opponents charge the laws, which have been enacted in more than 30 states, are aimed at discouraging minority and elderly voters.
He pointed to Georgia, where he said turnout increased in 2012, even after the state imposed its voter ID law.
Priebus added that voter fraud was “very real” in his home state of Wisconsin, where he served as state Republican Party chairman before becoming national party chairman.
That comment drew immediate criticism from the Democratic National Committee, which said in a statement that Priebus was repeating an “old and offensive” claim that was recently dismissed by a federal judge.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, will address the convention Friday.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, both Democrats, also gave welcoming remarks Thursday.