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Soledad O'Brien Challenges GOP: Do Minorities 'Know You and They Decided They Don't Like You?'

CNN's Soledad O'Brien, well known for her documentaries on race "Latino In America" and "Black In America," questioned the GOP's credibility among minority voters on Friday's Starting Point.

Quoting an RNC committeeman who said minority voters and the youth vote "simply don't know" the GOP, O'Brien asked former RNC chair Mel Martinez "is it that they don't know you? Meaning you as the GOP. Or is that they know you and they decided they don't like you?"

[Video below. Audio here.]

Martinez acknowledged a "communication gap," but O'Brien tried to get him to admit the GOP needs to move its policy leftward: "on some other things that you might say are core to the GOP message, I think you're going to have a challenge."

O'Brien cited poll numbers with the majority of recipients opposing GOP policies. "So isn't – does that mean that you take the assessment and then you change policy potentially?" she pressed Martinez.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on Starting Point on January 25 at 8:08 a.m. EST, is as follows:

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: There's a web site we are now requesting feedback and recommendations. Walk me through how that will go, and what kinds of feedback you're getting and then how you take that and turn that into some real change.

MEL MARTINEZ (R-Fla), former U.S. senator: Well, I think first of all there's a great reassessment taking place within the party and I think that's very, very healthy. I thought the governor's speech last night was very much on point, but I think the entire tenor of this meeting is one in which we're taking a deep look inside, and I think that's a terrific thing to do.

I'm really quite encouraged, not only by the web site and the fact that we're reaching out to people to input, because I think we've lost the ability to communicate well and I think that's a beginning. But I think also this group that has been impaneled, including someone from Florida that I know very well, Sally Bradshaw and Ari Fleischer. I think these are terrific people and I think they will lead a reassessment of where our party needs to go going forward from a political standpoint.

O'BRIEN: There's a guy named –

MARTINEZ: You know I think there's other things –  

O'BRIEN: Oh, I'm sorry for interrupting. There's a guy named Glenn McCall. And he's a South Carolina committeeman. And this is what he said, and I'll have you to weigh in on what you think. He said, "There are large portions of the population – African- Americans, Hispanics, Asians, young voters – who simply don't know us. We have to change that." And my question for you would be: is it that they don't know you? Meaning you as the GOP. Or is that they know you and they decided they don't like you?

MARTINEZ: Look, I think that there's a communication gap and I think that our party has done a poor job of reaching out to these particular groups. And I think this is about communicating our message.

But, no, I find particularly among Hispanics, which is a subset of that I know best, that there's not a rejection of ideas like entrepreneurship or economic growth or a government that is not so intrusive, or concerns about schools that don't work and want to see an educational system that really works for all children. These are very constant themes, and entrepreneurship, as you well know Soledad, is a very strong value within our Hispanic community. These are very Republican values.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, there are some other things, though, that are not. I mean, can I show the poll? Because I think you're right. I think the things that you've ticked off, there's no question, but on some other things that you might say are core to the GOP message, I think you're going to have a challenge. For example, taxes, right? When you actually poll people, you see 69 percent say they favor raising the tax rate on people $250,000 and higher. And I think that that was obviously a big sticking point for people in the GOP. Also, if you take a look at, there was a question reduce government programs for people like you, 48 percent, nearly half peoplen and more than those who favored it, said, no, they would oppose reducing government programs. And obviously lots of conversations with the GOP about the size of government. So, isn't -- does that mean that you take the assessment and then you change policy potentially?

MARTINEZ: No, I don't think you change principles, but I think you change the conversation. We shouldn't be talking about protecting the wealthy from raising taxes. We should be talking about a tax code that promotes economic growth, and that lifts all boats. A tax code that is fair for everyone and that promotes economic growth, it's going to create more jobs, it's going to create better jobs. It's going to allow people to move into the middle class.

So, the bottom line is that it's about taxes, it's about an overbearing government but it's really about how we communicate it. Are we really for protecting a certain segment of taxpayers or are we really looking to have a tax code that really promotes economic growth? There's a great history in our party of people like a Jack Kemp who knew how to speak to folks in a way that was really understandable and that reached every man. And I think that's what we've got to get back to, is that kind of rhetoric, that kind of conversation that really reaches people where they live. That it's about jobs, it's about opportunity, it's about the rising of the American dream.

O'BRIEN: Senator Mel Martinez, former RNC chairman and also former Florida senator – nice to see you, sir, as always. Thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it.

-- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center