Politics & Policy

A Conservative Businessman Touts New Appeals to Minority Voters

Directly challenging liberal orthodoxy can change people’s minds.

It seems everyone in the Republican party wants to appeal to minority voters, but not many are actually doing anything about it. An exception is Tom Donelson, an Iowa businessman who runs America’s PAC, a group that crafts one-minute radio ads directed at minority groups in hopes they will vote for conservatives.  

Unlike many groups they directly challenge liberal orthodoxies on hot-button issues such as school choice, taxes, small-business regulation, and abortion.  

Donelson’s approach has some similarities to that taken by Elbert Guillory, the black state legislator from Louisiana, whose video attacking Democratic senator Mary Landrieu and President Barack Obama as having a “malevolent” indifference to minority communities has gone viral

In Wisconsin, Donelson is running 5,000 radio ads in both English and Spanish that accuse Democrats of caring more about their teachers’-union allies than continuing to allow students in failing schools a school-choice option. Another ads zings liberals for supporting partial-birth abortion: “Democrat ask for our votes every election. But why do we vote for a party that wants our votes but not our babies?” Still another accuses urban liberals of cutting deals with politically connected developers that enrich them but impoverish the local community.

In other states, Donelson is pursuing Hispanic voters. He notes that nearly one in five Americans is now Hispanic, but in 2012 they gave only 27 percent of their votes to Mitt Romney. But polls show Hispanics are often more conservative on social and economic issues than their partisan voting patterns indicate. In New Mexico, Donelson is running 3,000 ads in support of GOP governor Susana Martinez. A similar ad campaign began this week in New Hampshire, backing GOP state legislator Marilinda Garcia’s bid for Congress. In Illinois, where America’s PAC is running 15,000 ads targeting Democratic-machine candidates, he notes that a Democratic pollster found that two out of five Hispanics believe in a smaller government and that economic growth is better achieved by cutting taxes and regulations than by government programs — a higher percentage than among white voters. Based on his reading of 20 years of survey research, he believes that Republicans can boost turnout of Hispanic voters who overlap with conservative principles.

Donelson ran an online survey experiment in which he presented 1,760 Spanish-fluent Hispanic citizens with one of six conservative messages on taxes, spending, education, abortion, or gun control. When compared with a control group, the ads did move the needle. “Our ‘Partisan Business Taxes’ ad — which blames Democratic city machines for over-regulating small business boosted trust in the GOP on the issue by six points and cost Democrats six points,” he told me. “Ads that provide partisan cues assigning blame or praise also work on issues such as abortion and education and show the fight must be taken directly to the opposition. Our ‘Partisan Abortion’ ad dragged down support for Democrats by ten points.” He says it’s important that conservatives develop a better policy message on immigration that addresses Hispanics’ concerns, but it’s a myth that Hispanics can’t be reached first on other issues. “Hispanics hold many essentially conservative views, but Republicans have failed miserably to reach them,” he said. 

Jessie Rodriguez, a Republican state legislator from Milwaukee, Wis., agrees that the ads can have an impact. “They reinforced the theme that immigrants come to this country, not for handouts, but for jobs, a better education and the American dream — the very reasons my parents came to this country when I was young,” she told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Allies of Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke, a maverick conservative Democrat, say Donelson’s ads touting the sheriff’s support for gun rights played a role in helping him beat off a union-backed challenger in August’s Democratic primary.

“My years in marketing taught me that if you don’t ask for a buy from a customer the answer will always be ‘no,’ if you ask the answer is sometimes ‘yes,’” Donelson told me. “If conservatives advertise messages that appeal to investors, small-business owners, and social conservatives in minority communities, they will be surprised how often the response they get is positive.”

— John Fund is national affairs correspondent for NRO and co-author, with Hans Von Spakovsky, of Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk.

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