Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has hired longtime Republican operative and conservative pundit Tara Wall as a senior communications adviser who will also work on “coalitions outreach,” as the Washington Post first reported Friday.
Wall will be one of the most senior African-Americans on Romney’s team as he tries to defeat the first black president. After working in Detroit as a television journalist, she has had stints as an adviser at the Republican National Committee, columnist and editor for the Washington Times and as a CNN contributor.
In an interview with theGrio, Wall said her role would not be just outreach to blacks, but women and other groups, as well as shaping Romney’s overall communications strategy. She joined the campaign a few weeks ago and is likely to be a frequent pro-Romney voice on cable news shows.
And her appointment comes as the former Massachusetts governor is making moves to appeal to black and Latino voters, both strongly Democratic blocs. He gave a speech to a Latino business group Wednesday and then at a black charter school in West Philadelphia Thursday, facing a hostile crowd at the latter event.
“Yes, it is a bit harder this time. We have a black president. But we can’t go in with the mind-set that we aren’t going to win any people over to our side,” Wall told the Post, comparing 2012 to her work as an adviser with President Bush’s campaign in 2004. “From a messaging standpoint, we need to be able to communicate and relate to these communities about how they are being impacted by Obama’s policies. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s an important part of the process. It’s not a ploy, it’s not a tactic, it’s part of who we are. We have to show up.”
Wall said the Romney campaign would emphasize the high jobless rate among African-Americans, which is currently 13 percent.
“There are some opportunities,” she told theGrio. “The Obama campaign doesn’t own the black vote. There are folks who want to hear from the other side.”
But it’s not yet clear how much time Romney will actively spend courting the black vote, which could produce some awkward moments with a voting bloc that is strongly behind Obama. In Philly on Thursday, Romney hecklers shouting him outside of an event and then was bluntly challenged on his views on education policy and other issues by African-American activists at the event.
In 2004, the Bush campaign won about 11 percent of the black vote, including 16 percent in the key swing state of Ohio. Back then, Ohio had a gay marriage ban on the ballot, and some strategists argue that ban, and Bush’s strong support for it, helped him win those black votes.
Eight years later, as Wall conceded, this appeal will be much harder. Polls suggest black voters, rather than resisting Obama’s embrace of gay marriage, will follow him on the issue, as black opposition to gay unions is softening. And it seems highly unlikely Romney would collect anywhere close to 11 percent of the black vote, as John McCain won only 4 percent of the black vote in four years ago.
Instead, the model may be more the 2000 election, when Bush campaigned around the country as a “compassionate conservative” and emphasized his interest in shrinking the achievement gap between white and minority students. The goal was to appeal to black voters, but also moderate white voters eager to see the softer side of the GOP.
That kind of message may be even more important in 2012, as liberals cast the GOP, particularly the Tea Party, as out-of-touch with an increasingly diverse America.
In addition, Obama advisers privately worry turnout among blacks will be lower in some key states because their economic struggles. A sharp emphasis on Romney (and Wall) on the black jobless rate could help the GOP if it results in lower black turnout.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr