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Jeb Bush Wants to Appeal to Black Voters Through 'Aspiration' and Not 'Free Stuff'

Bush's comments again demonstrate the struggle by Republicans to effectively reach out to minorities and the African-American community, which votes overwhelmingly for Democrats.
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Jeb Bush plans to appeal to black voters through "hope and aspiration," rather than giving out "free stuff," echoing previous controversial statements made by Mitt Romney during his bid for the White House three years ago.

At a campaign event in South Carolina on Thursday evening, Bush answered a question from a white audience member over how his campaign can be more inclusive to African-Americans.

"Our message isn't one of division and get in line and we'll take care of you with free stuff," Bush said. "Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success."

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Bush's remarks immediately drew comparisons to when Romney, explaining an earlier speech that he gave to the NAACP where he was booed, said, "I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff."

Romney was quickly criticized for his remarks, which were seen as an example of his inability to connect with black voters and unawareness as to why.

Coming three years later, Bush's comments again demonstrate this struggle by Republicans to effectively reach out to minorities. The African-American community disproportionally votes Democratic, which Bush acknowledged as an issue Thursday night.

"Republicans get 4 percent to 7 percent maybe of the African American vote for president," said Bush last night. "Those are kind of the numbers that I hear about."

The GOP has been aware of these numbers for years as well. In a blunt 2012 report examining the issues facing their party, Republicans acknowledged that the party needed to better connect with black and Latino voters if they wanted to stay relevant in future elections.

To Democrats, Bush's comments, and Romney's before them, illustrate how Republican attempts to appeal to non-white voters often end up backfiring in the process.

"Sadly Jeb Bush's comments reflect a Republican Party that, while touting policies that benefit a select few at the very top, is falling over itself to alienate more and more Americans every single day," says Michael Taylor, Director of African-American media for the Democratic National Committee.

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But Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist and political commentator, does not see Bush's comments as necessarily having an adverse effect on Republican outreach to black voters, but rather a broader message of promoting self-aspiration.

"The African-American community is ready to embrace personal responsibility," Luntz said. "Personal responsibility is not a principle that Democrats promote, it is not high on their list," said Luntz.

In the same vein, he added, "equality is not a principle that Republicans promote."

Bush's remarks contrast sharply with how Democratic candidates have discussed the question of race during the campaign. During a meeting with Black Lives Matter activists last month, frontrunner Hillary Clinton acknowledged deep-seated racism in the US.

"We could do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them," she said.

Clinton's rival Bernie Sanders also discusses race explicitly, and the need for racial justice. Sanders has said that the criminal justice system is an example of "institutional racism" on a national level that needs to be addressed.

Related: Why Every Single US Presidential Candidate Could Expand Medicare and Medicaid

Kristy Campbell, a spokesperson for the Bush campaign, told the New York Times that Bush's comments also reflected the candidate's overall conservative message he was trying to get across.

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"We will never be successful in elections without communicating that conservative principles and conservative policies are the only path to restoring the right to rise for every single American," Campbell said. The Bush campaign did not immediately respond to VICE News' request for comment.

According to recent poll numbers, Bush is trailing by double-digits behind frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson in South Carolina.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928

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