Question: Republicans have been making a big push recently to woo the black vote. In 1996, 83 percent of blacks voted for President Clinton. What do Republicans need to do to win more support in the black community?

Bonnie Erbe: The first thing Republicans need to do to win black support is to stop using the race issue as a wedge. The Joint Center for Political Studies, a black conservative think tank, reported in 1996 that one-third of all African-Americans consider themselves "conservative" and it's no secret that many African-Americans are deeply religious - putting them potentially in closer proximity politically with the Christian Coalition than with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.The center survey also shows about 80 percent of blacks identify themselves as Democrats. Only 8.7 percent of blacks identify themselves as Republicans. That can be changed, say black Republicans, only when the party starts devoting more time and resources to getting black candidates elected, and after finding out which conservative issues appeal to the black com-mu-ni-ty.

Still, despite volumes of rhetoric to the contrary, Republicans have done much more to drive whites and blacks apart than to bring them together.

They have tried, to no avail, to persuade blacks that school tuition vouchers are in their interest. But no one is fooled by that argument - least of all inner-city residents who know that precious resources will be drained from the public schools their children attend; schools that are already in dire need of more money, not less.

Josette Shiner: First some history: More than a century ago the Republican Party was born out of a struggle for rights and opportunities for black Americans. This is why, until 1940, it was nearly impossible to find a black Democrat in America. The party of Lincoln was the natural home for black Americans.

It was the Democratic Party's commitment to jobs and fighting poverty under the leadership of FDR that wooed blacks away from a Republican Party more concerned with economic austerity. It is now time for another historic shift in party allegiance.

Indeed, when it comes to specific issues, blacks are frequently very conservative - socially and fiscally. Recent Gallup polls have found that more than three-fourths of blacks support school choice (my colleague is especially confused on that point; in the last five years urban, poor blacks have become some of the staunchest supporters of school choice); 53 percent disapprove of mandatory busing; 77 percent oppose preferential treatment based on remediating past discrimination; 92 percent believe in God; and, perhaps most humbling for Democrats, 48 percent are pro-life.

The fact is that very few Republicans have followed Jack Kemp's example of reaching out to the black community. When they do - such as in Jeb Bush's campaign for governor in Florida and Sen. Chris Bond's re-election campaign in Missouri - their efforts are rewarded with support and loyalty.

The political landscape is rumbling. As conservatives, we must welcome the black community back with open hearts and open arms.