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Republicans hope to pull in much of Hispanic vote

A panel of prominent Republicans briefly backed off the party’s hottest topic – Sarah Palin – Thursday morning to talk about how they can win over more minorities to help them win the presidential race.

A panel of prominent Republicans briefly backed off the party’s hottest topic – Sarah Palin – Thursday morning to talk about how they can win over more minorities to help them win the presidential race.

The five participants, including former White House adviser Karl Rove, tackled the question at a breakfast program, last in a series sponsored this week by Politico.com, the Pioneer Press and Yahoo.com at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul. Panelists zeroed in on their party’s need to pay particular attention to minorities who already identify with Republicans and to bring more Hispanic voters into the GOP fold.

“We need to make sure we’re taking care of the black and other minority voters that support us first of all,” said Tara Wall, an editor at the Washington Times and one of three black members of the panel. “The party needs to spend more time growing the grass roots and continuing with that outreach.”

Al Cardenas, a former Florida GOP chairman who is of Hispanic origin, said polls show that many Hispanics share Republicans’ key values, including religion and strong extended family ties. He cited “an explosion” of Hispanics in the evangelical Christian movement as well as those becoming owners of small businesses, such as hair salons, auto shops and convenience stores. In those roles, their concerns become “lowering taxes and lowering health-care costs,” he said.

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Palin popularity a good thing?
The program wasn’t in session for long before Palin’s name crept in, fresh on everyone’s mind after her speech Wednesday night that displayed her toughness mixed with down-home charm. Panelist and political commentator Armstrong Williams called her “the cat’s meow.” Talk of a growing buzz about Palin as a newcomer to the scene turned to a question of the challenge it could become: making sure Palin doesn’t overshadow the man who put her name next to his on the presidential ticket.

Rove pointed out that in a normal contest, vice-presidential candidates have a minimal influence – about 1 percent – on a presidential race. “But this may not be a normal election,” he said of the vote that is 61 days away.

Jobs, economy hottest issues
Mike Allen, panel moderator and Politico’s chief political writer, asked what McCain should be talking about. Rove: “Kitchen-table issues – jobs and the economy.” They fall outside his primary comfort zone, which is international issues, he said. It would be good, too, for McCain to “share more of his interior self,” Rove said. Others have relayed stories about his history as a prisoner of war and other experiences. But McCain remains “the most private person,” Rove said.

Panelist and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell said he’s confident that Palin will “complement, not compete” with McCain. “Keep an eye on how she resonates in suburban and rural areas,” he said. McCain will benefit from his broad appeal, Blackwell said. Williams said, “Black people are going to vote for Barack Obama because he’s black.” Wall agreed, adding, “It’s unfortunate in some ways, but I understand it.”

The panel pointed to Virginia, Colorado, Michigan and Ohio as key states in determining which party will take the presidential race in November.