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Friday April 20, 2001

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Republicans reach out to build party's base

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Republicans are moving more aggressively to court ethnic and religious groups in the face of changing demographics that threaten their hold on political power.

They created a new division of the Republican National Committee to work to build the party's base. The emphasis is on Hispanics and Roman Catholics.

Party chairman Jim Gilmore wrote a letter to groups affiliated with the national party that had the role of expanding its outreach efforts to announce the party's increased ethnic and religious focus, party officials said Wednesday.

In the letter, Gilmore told the loosely affiliated groups they had to leave committee-supplied offices by mid-June, to be replaced by a dozen people in a new "grass-roots development team" controlled by party leaders.

By creating a division dedicated entirely to ethnic and religious outreach, Gilmore signaled his intent to make progress in an area republicans consider crucial to their future political health.

Gore beat Bush by a 9-to-1 margin among blacks in the 2000 election and beat him by a 2-to-1 margin among Hispanics. Republicans have been encouraged by Bush's performance among Hispanics in 2000 - his 35 percent was 14 points better than candidate Bob Dole got four years earlier.