Donald Trump Plans Minority Voter Outreach

By Tal Kopan, Sara Murray and Jim Acosta, CNN

Updated 11:02 PM ET, Wed August 24, 2016

    Washington (CNN) Donald Trump's campaign is planning a concerted effort to reach out to minority voters and shed the perception by some that he is racist, part of a reset for his campaign sparked by bringing in new leadership.

    A senior Trump adviser characterized the strategy as "part of an ongoing conversation" and said the campaign is "looking forward.

    As first reported by The Washington Post, the campaign is planning to make trips to diverse and urban areas and focus on an economic and job-centric theme.

    Some of the effort has already been evident.

    Trump spent much of last week making a pitch directly to African-American voters, though his choice of words was still criticized at times.

    Trump: There could be a 'softening' on immigration

    Asking black voters, "what the hell do you have to lose," Trump made the case that he and Republicans would be better for black Americans than Democrats, who have historically been overwhelmingly favored by minority voters.

    Trump has previously delivered his message to mostly white audiences in predominantly white suburbs, drawing criticism. On Wednesday night, however, Trump will hold a rally in Jackson, Mississippi, a city that is roughly 80% black, according to Census data.

    Trump has also discussed openness to "softening" his tone on immigration, after a hard-line position that put him to the far right of the spectrum helped buoy his candidacy in the primaries.

    That change in tone is interpreted as a move to try to improve his standing with Latino voters, a growing demographic.

    Trump: 'What the hell do you have to lose?'

    Trump met last weekend with a Hispanic advisory council, and this week will meet with a roundtable of African-American and Hispanic fellows with the GOP's Republican Leadership Initiative.

    The firebrand GOP candidate has struggled with minorities in recent polls. In a recent Pew Research poll, Trump was at 2% support among black voters and 26% among Hispanics. A Monmouth poll this month found that Trump only picked up 10% of non-white voters.

    Trump has brought on new campaign leadership in the past week, parting ways with former Chairman Paul Manafort and bringing in Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager and Breitbart executive Steve Bannon as chief executive.

    One of his early endorsers among his former opponents, Ben Carson, has been a high-profile African-American voice for Trump, and Carson's business manager Armstrong Williams confirmed that the retired neurosurgeon would help in the new outreach effort.

    "He fully recognizes that he's probably not going to win the majority, anywhere near the majority of African-American votes, because of tradition. However, after you enact the right policies," Carson told CNN's Brianna Keilar on Wednesday. "I think people are going to be more interested in things that work ... and I think it's going to be an exciting time in America when that happens."

    Williams said the Trump campaign would be making a concerted effort to visit black churches, and added that Trump and Carson are also planning a trip to visit disadvantaged neighborhoods in Detroit.

    "They will be visiting black churches, and it's important to visit black churches because black churches have always been a pinnacle of the community," Williams said, adding those kinds of visits can help boost Trump's credibility among African-Americans.

    When Carson first endorsed Trump during the primaries they often touted their plans to reach out to minority voters and campaign in areas where Republicans don't usually campaign, Williams said, and Trump felt like he already had a base of support within the black community and that his business background had given him some credibility there. But Trump didn't foresee that he would be cast as a racist.

    "What he could not anticipate is there would be a narrative pushed by the Democratic Party and the media that somehow he was a racist. They sort of redefined him to the point that a lot of the support that he thought he had, he began to realize was not there," Williams said.

    Williams said Trump's new campaign leadership support the outreach, and acknowledges it carries risks. But he said Trump is doing it because he wants to.

    "With the days left in the campaign, think about this, he's making an investment that could possibly not generate a great return," Williams said. "What's the best case scenario? Could he get four, five or 10 (percent)? ... It's a principled position for him."

    Not everyone in the Trump campaign is convinced the candidate can make a credible pitch to minority voters with less than 90 days until the election.

    One Trump adviser said Trump already has to battle the perception that he is a racist and added that his hiring Steve Bannon could only make that more difficult. Bannon has been criticized for allegedly using racist rhetoric during his tenure at Breitbart. And the website has been accused creating a haven for white nationalist rhetoric.

    "Doesn't that eventually undermine whatever minority outreach 'strategy' you come up with?" the adviser said.

    Bruce LeVell, the executive director of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, said his group has already spent months on outreach to minority communities that don't traditionally vote Republican.

    LeVell said he and other members of the coalition often make their Trump pitch on urban radio stations. Rather than criticizing Obama, LeVell said he focuses on the future and how Trump can help disadvantaged communities.

    "Our sale is 'hey, let us try for four years,'" LeVell said. "You've lived 40, 50 years in this community with schools you're having problems with. Give us a chance. Give us four years. If we can't do it, vote us out."

    "I think that's going to really resonate with a lot of communities that have been hurting," LeVell said.

    CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report