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Glenn Youngkin speaks to Hispanic voters

Glenn Youngkin (2nd R), then the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, greets customers during a campaign stop at Hispanic-owned supermarket Todos on September 15, 2021 in Woodbridge, Virginia. The Republican Party has invested in setting up community centers in minority neighborhoods to expand its outreach. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Progressives Call for Greater Outreach by DNC as GOP Invests in Community Centers

"Very easy to imagine a good faith, Democratic/progressive version of this kind of programming," said one political observer.

Julia Conley

The Republican National Committee is investing considerable money and energy in expanding its voter base by building up its presence in largely Black, Latino, and Native American communities, according to new reporting by The American Prospect which led progressives on Wednesday to warn that Democrats have largely abandoned such boots-on-the-ground efforts.

As Alexander Sammon wrote at the outlet, the Republican Party has opened at least 21 community centers in places including Robeson County, North Carolina—a former Democratic stronghold which former Republican President Donald Trump won in 2016—and the College Park section of Atlanta.

Sammon visited Republicans' Native American Community Center in Robeson County, where the median household income is less than $35,000 per year and where the party is "aggressively pursuing" the votes of Lumbee Tribe members.

"There's been a lot of dismissal of this initiative from Democrats, and scant reporting, but I'll tell you it's real, it's working, and Democrats don't have an answer to it."

The party is hoping its outreach efforts in the community—including free pizza nights, Easter egg hunts, movie nights, and cookouts at the center—help it to win North Carolina's 7th Congressional District as well as a U.S. Senate seat.

While enjoying free meals and what one political science professor called "a shared sense of community," visitors to the center also see "stickers and flyers for GOP candidates, leaflets barking out the permanent collection of Republican messaging: 'voter fraud,' supporting the troops, pro-policing... a framed portrait of RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, with a quote proclaiming her commitment to the Native American community and its place in the Republican Party."

As Sammon reported, the Republican Party appears to be modeling its approach on "the sustained organizing model of the Bernie Sanders campaign," which spent months organizing in predominantly immigrant, working-class communities in Nevada before shocking the Democratic establishment by winning the state's primary in February 2020.

The GOP has used the same approach to engage with voters whose interests it has no intention of serving, Chuck Rocha, who led Sanders' Latino outreach program in 2020, told The American Prospect (TAP).

"It's really smart politics," Rocha told the outlet. "Because they have unlimited money and support... they can go in and put these community centers up with the facade that they care about the community. What they're really trying to do is spend a bunch of money just to get three or four more percent of the Black or brown vote."

The party is also taking advantage of the fact that Democrats are spending less time and money on winning votes in places like Robeson County than they did several decades ago.

"I just feel like they've given up on the Democratic voters of Robeson County," Rev. Tyrone Watson, president of the Robeson NAACP, told TAP. "You don't see that effort that you used to see. They're turning Robeson County over to the Republican Party."

The Republicans also appear to be taking advantage of Democrats' shrinking support from Latino voters—with President Joe Biden's support decreasing by 8% compared to Hillary Clinton's in 2016—and Black Americans, whose support fell by 3%.

While the Democratic Party has also invested in grassroots organizing in minority communities with a $25 million voter protection and outreach initiative and a $5 million voter registration program, according to Sammon, the Democratic National Committee's focus is largely on "ad buys" supporting those efforts.

Sammon reported that "multiple Democratic aides" he spoke to dismissed the RNC community centers as "a shambolic nonentity" and "a 'nothingburger.'"

"There's been a lot of dismissal of this initiative from Democrats, and scant reporting, but I'll tell you it's real, it's working, and Democrats don't have an answer to it," tweeted Sammon.

Progressives must "demand" that the DNC invest in local organizing, said Melissa Byrne, a former organizer for Sanders.

The GOP's strategy is "like a simulacrum of democracy for the party that is dead-set against democracy," said Aaron Huertas of the progressive voter data firm Catalist. "Very easy to imagine a good faith, Democratic/progressive version of this kind of programming."

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