Jon Ward's piece in today's Washington Times highlights an ongoing problem for the Republican Party — outreach to African-Americans.

With Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHow Obama can win back millions of Trump voters for Biden Biden taps Obama alums for high-level campaign positions: report Democrats debate Biden effort to expand map against Trump MORE as the Democrats' nominee, most Republicans are completely ceding the African-American vote. This is a mistake.

The GOP must make minority outreach a party-wide priority, while speaking about issues important to African-Americans. What too many Republicans fail to recognize is that the issues important to African-Americans are the same issues important to all Americans. Visit Largo Town Center in Prince George's County, Md., and you're much more likely to find people talking about property taxes, the housing crisis, traffic congestion and rising food and energy costs than affirmative action and District of Columbia voting rights.

The party made strong outreach efforts in previous years, most notably by former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman. It resulted in three strong African-American candidates running statewide — Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania, Ken Blackwell in Ohio and Maryland's Michael Steele (disclosure: this blog's author worked on the Steele campaign). While these candidates did not win election, it demonstrates what can be done.

These efforts must be redoubled. State party committees and congressional offices should at the very least do the basics: meeting with minority civic groups or including minority media on press lists to get the Republican message out and begin a dialogue. GOP officials would go a long way by visiting public housing, an underperforming school or a minority business district.

Sen. McCain has been engaging the African-American community, including speaking to the NAACP convention and meeting with African-American media. The GOP should follow his example and not use the Obama candidacy as an excuse for inaction.

Many have argued and will argue that African-American outreach is a waste of time and resources. Such pessimism should be disregarded in an election that is neck and neck, where a point of two from any demographic could change the outcome of the election. No political party can build itself for future elections by ignoring any potential voters.

This is not to be naïve. African-Americans are deeply suspicious of the Republican brand. They had been for decades and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina closed the minds of countless African American voters to the GOP. It will not be easy, but engaging the African-American community is the right and smart thing to do.

With Sen. Obama as the Democrats' nominee, many Republicans will throw in the towel when it comes to African-American voters — which hurts the GOP in this election as well as in future campaign cycles. And if outreach efforts don't begin now, when will they?