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American Morning - Transcript




September 2, 2004 Thursday

Transcript # 090202CN.V74

HEADLINE: Update on Hurricane Frances; Russian Hostage Crisis; Final day of Republican National Convention

GUESTS: Don Evans, Lindsey Graham

BYLINE: Bill Hemmer, Heidi Collins, Jack Cafferty, Chad Myers, Ryan Chilcote, Bob Franken

COLLINS: In this week full of Republican leaders celebrating their party, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham made headlines with some very straight talk about his party's weaknesses. Senator Graham is joining us now this morning to talk more about it.

What is the main weakness of the Republican Party?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, right now, we are not doing well among minority voters. We're losing about 90 percent of the African-Americans vote nationwide. About 60 percent, 65 percent of the Hispanic vote. And over time, the demographic changes in this country, that becomes ominous for the Republican Party.

So what I would like to see my party do is not change their philosophy of government, because I believe Social Security reform, school choice, faith-based initiatives are good ideas for the country as a whole, but really make an effort to say you're welcome. We have to do a better job of attracting social moderates.

Giuliani and Schwarzenegger showed what can happen if people feel comfortable being part of the Republican Party even though you disagree. And our Democratic friends have the same challenge.

They need to understand and explain the best they can how Zell Miller went from being Bill Clinton's biggest political ally to last night. So both parties have challenges. And the one that overcomes their challenge the best will dominate this century.

COLLINS: Well, you know, in fact, lots of analysts are saying that Republicans are no longer concerned about the undecided voters. We've heard about the undecided voters for so long. Much more concerned about expanding their base. Your thoughts on that?

GRAHAM: Well, to be honest with you, demographic changes in this country, the Hispanic vote, the African-American vote is going to grow. Our base needs to be people who buy into the core principles of the party.

When you inventory what we believe among African-Americans, you get a lot of agreement about the concept. But when you say, "Would you vote Republican," a lot will bail out.

So the truth is, if you want to be relevant in the next decade as a party, if you want to be able to win the White House and maintain a Senate majority, we have to do better among minority voters. And if we'll make the effort, we'll become better people and a better party.

COLLINS: Why is it so difficult to attract the minority voters?

GRAHAM: I think a lot of it is some of our own problems in the past. I'm a conservative, I believe in the 10th Amendment. But states' rights was used as a concept to deny a person a chance to get a drink of water when they were thirsty, to go to the school around the corner, or vote without fear. It was an ideology that had lost its way, lost its conscience.

So part of it is our fault. Part of it is our Democratic friends beat us up badly. But I see an opportunity for change by having a good healthy dialog about principles and concepts.

But People know if they feel welcomed or not. And my goal is to make sure that 31 percent of African-Americans in my state feel welcome, and to go out and sell the policies that I'm advocating as a senator to the whole state.

And the truth is, unless we tap into the entire pool of talent in South Carolina, we can never be a great state, or a great party. And that's the challenge of my generation.

COLLINS: You happy being a Republican?

GRAHAM: I love being a Republican. I love being in a democracy. I like my Democratic friends.

We kind of treat each other a little too mean. I think one of the reasons Zell Miller was where he was last night is he gets turned off by some of the national meanness about conservative judges and other things that our Democrat friends do. But we have our own problems, too.

COLLINS: Appreciate your time this morning.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

COLLINS: Senator Lindsey Graham, thanks so much.

GRAHAM: God bless.

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