GOP Faces Decisions on Voting Rights Act GOP Faces Decisions on Voting Rights Act

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Byline: Associated Press Associated Press

ATLANTA -- When the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights act last week, it handed Republicans tough questions with no easy answers over how, and where, to attract voters even GOP leaders say the party needs to stay nationally competitive.

The decision caught Republicans between newfound state autonomy that conservatives covet and the law's popularity among minority, young and poor voters who tend to align with Democrats. It's those voters Republicans eye to expand and invigorate the GOP's core of older, white Americans.

National GOP Chairman Reince Priebus began that effort well before the court's decision by promising, among other initiatives, to hire nonwhite party activists to engage directly with black and Latino voters. Yet state and national Republicans reacted to the Voting Rights Act decision with a flurry of activity and comments that may not fit neatly into the national party's vision.

Congressional leaders must decide whether to try to rewrite the provision the court struck, but it's not clear how such an effort would fare in the Democratic-led Senate and the GOP-controlled House. And at the state level, elected Republicans are enacting tighter voting restrictions Democrats blast as harmful to their traditional base of supporters and groups the GOP want to attract.

States like North Carolina and Virginia provide apt examples of the potential fallout. An influx of nonwhites have turned those Republican strongholds into battlegrounds in the last two presidential elections, and minority voters helped President Barack Obama win both states in 2008 and Virginia again in 2012. Nationally, Republican Mitt Romney lost among African-Americans by about 85 percentage points and Latinos by about 44 percentage points, margins that virtually ensure a Democratic victory.

Yet presidential math doesn't necessarily motivate Republicans who control statehouses and congressional districts in states most affected by the Voting Rights Act. Core GOP supporters in the region react favorably to voter identification laws and broad-based critiques of federal authority.

Against that backdrop, Southern Republicans celebrated Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion that effectively frees all or parts of 15 states with a history of racial discrimination from having to get advanced federal approval for any election procedure.

GOP officials in Texas and Mississippi promised within hours of the decision to enforce new laws requiring voters to show identification at polls. But in Washington, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, "I'm hopeful Congress will put politics aside and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected."

The white Republican recalled his recent trip to Alabama with black Democratic Rep. John Lewis on the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat, was beaten repeatedly as a young civil rights advocate during the 1960s. The commemoration, Cantor said, was "a profound experience."

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who helped lead the law's latest reauthorization when the GOP ran Congress in 2006, said the court "disappointed" him. Lingering discrimination, he said, compels Congress to update the act, "especially for minorities."

"There's no easy answer" for the GOP, said Henry Barbour, a high-profile member of the Republican National Committee. The Mississippi native conceded his personal views demonstrate the complications.

Barbour helped write the national party's postelection analysis calling for better outreach to minorities and urged fellow Republicans that "our tone is important, on this and any other issue." But he's clear in his support for the decision and what it means in Mississippi.

Blatantly racist laws like poll taxes and literacy tests once made pre-clearance necessary, Barbour said. …