Republican candidates offer similar plans to end poverty

January 9, 2016
(L-R) U.S. Senator Tim Scott and Speaker Paul Ryan, welcome U.S. Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Governor Chris Christie in a forum at the 2016 Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity in Columbia, South Carolina, January 9, 2016. The forum featured six presidential candidates and focused on their ideas for fighting poverty and expanding opportunity in America.  REUTERS/Randall Hill - RTX21N8Z

(L-R) Senator Tim Scott and House Speaker Paul Ryan, welcome U.S. Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Governor Chris Christie in a forum at the 2016 Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity in Columbia, South Carolina, January 9, 2016. The forum featured six presidential candidates and focused on their ideas for fighting poverty and expanding opportunity in America. REUTERS/Randall Hill – RTX21N8Z

Republican leaders and presidential candidates on Saturday called on each other to spend more time talking about poverty, saying they needed to prove the party cares about Americans’ concerns in order to win over new voters.

“We as Republicans have a problem demographically. We do not do well with lower-income Americans because they think that the Republican Party doesn’t have their interests at heart,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, speaking at a poverty summit in his home state of South Carolina.

“It’s not enough to care. You have to actually do something,” he said.

Six Republican presidential hopefuls, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, appeared at the forum on Saturday, part of an effort by the party to repair its relationship with lower-income voters after Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 election.

Even after the party determined that it needed to reach out to demographic groups who traditionally favor Democrats, Republicans have struggled to register more diverse voters ahead of the 2016 election.

The candidates offered similar prescriptions for how to lift people out of poverty – block grants for states to aid people instead of federal welfare programs, education reforms to give parents more choice, new responses to drug addiction to keep people out of prisons. One moment of dispute centered on a tax credit for lower-income working people, which Christie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said they support expanding but retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson called a tax “manipulation.”

Across the board, candidates agreed that Republicans need an image adjustment in the eyes of lower-income people.

Christie said Republicans needed to be more willing to speak to African-American churches and go into Hispanic communities without expecting the “instant gratification” of their support.

“It begins with convincing people that you actually care what they’re going through,” Rubio said.“If you don’t talk about what people are going through, they don’t think you care about people like them.”

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