New York - A few days ago, Bruce LeVell was sitting anxiously at the back of an Alpharetta club hoping to win a vote to be a delegate for Donald Trump. A few weeks ago, Dahlys Hamilton was the Georgia Hispanic outreach coordinator for the Republican frontrunner's biggest rival.
On Monday, the two were at the center of a swirl of TV cameras and media attention at Trump Tower to unveil a new minority outreach campaign for the billionaire as he tries to lock down the GOP nomination. The National Diversity Coalition for Trump organized an "honorary cabinet" with LeVell, a Dunwoody jeweler, at its top.
"When we get past the wheeling and dealing, Mr. Trump is going to be the Republican nominee. There's no question. So we need to unite," said LeVell, who narrowly won a slot as a Georgia delegate to the Cleveland convention. "There's a bad rumor out there that he's a racist. I don't know how else to put it, but it's wrong."
Trump's plans to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and deport illegal immigrants have helped him build a dominating lead in the Republican presidential race, but they've also renewed questions about whether he can grow his support from a base of mostly white men. Mitt Romney won less than one-fifth of black voters in 2012, and some Democrats predict Trump could fare worse.
The coalition was dreamed up by Trump adviser Michael Cohen as a way to counter that image before New York's vote Tuesday and a round of other primaries in diverse states like Pennsylvania, Maryland and California over the next six weeks. The coalition is expected to play an increasing role in the upcoming states.
Hamilton was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's liaison to the Hispanic community in Georgia until she bolted for Trump's camp a few weeks ago, announcing on her Facebook page in capital letters: “I’m getting off ‘Lyin’ Ted’s’ Cruz ship and boarding the Trump train!”
"I've always liked Trump. I was probably the only Cruz person who liked Trump and I found myself always defending Trump," Hamilton said before the rally.
"I hate all the racism accusations. I get them all the time, people asking 'How can you be Hispanic and still conservative?'" said Hamilton, who was born in Panama and raised by a Puerto Rican father. "Well, you can. I believe in the rule of law. I believe English should be the official language of government in Georgia. And I believe illegal immigrants should be deported."
LeVell, a former Gwinnett GOP chair, emerged as the group's leader after he bonded with Trump in November ahead of his Macon rally. At that event, Trump interrupted himself to hand LeVell the microphone amid chants of "Bruce, Bruce, Bruce."
“Donald Trump is not a racist, guys,” LeVell said to applause. “We had a big meeting up at Trump headquarters, and we had a bunch of pastors show up who look like me – leaders across the country – to denounce this rumor, this accusation, against this fine man.”