ANOTHER SETBACK FOR THE GOP’S MINORITY OUTREACH…. In Canton, Ohio, last night, Republican congressional candidate Jim Renacci hosted a town-hall forum, and fielded a question on civil rights. The exchange is worth considering in full.

The local voter, Robert Thompson, noted that he lives in the inner-city, and asked about Renacci’s approach to civil rights, diversity, and investments in struggling African-American communities. The Republican replied by emphasizing local control.

“A lot of the problems you’re talking about are local issues,” Renacci said. “And I’m also a firm believer that the federal government and our Constitution was based on freedom, and was based on the freedoms that our number one goal of our military is freedom. We need to get our federal government out of the way and we need to allow our local governments to become more involved in many of the issues you’re talking about.”

In fairness, Renacci was vague about what, exactly, constituted “local issues.” The question, at least in part, touched on drug-related crime and inner-city investment, for example, so if one is willing to give the GOP candidate the benefit of the doubt, it’s possible that’s what Renacci was referring to.

At least, that was the interpretation I was willing to consider until the follow-up.

Thompson: But for the federal government, we wouldn’t have had civil rights. Local governments were the ones holding us back. So you said you want to go back to that system of local government controlling? … It took the federal government to come in and say, “You can’t discriminate with housing, you can’t discriminate with jobs, you can’t discriminate in education.” It took the federal government to step and do that. Where’s the local government been in that fight?

Renacci: What you’re doing is talking about the past, and I agree with you. I’m talking about today…. In 2010, we have issues that need to come back to the local.

Wrong answer.

Renacci could have very easily made the distinction between what he considers local issues and those requiring federal intervention, but instead, he made it sound as if the entire civil rights agenda is no longer relevant. It was nearly as ridiculous as hearing Kentucky’s Rand Paul criticize the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I’m reminded of a comment RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who conceded that his party relied on a racially-divisive “Southern Strategy” for at least four decades, made when asked why African-American voters should support Republican candidates. “You really don’t have a reason to, to be honest,” Steele said.

Where the Republican Party finds these guys, I’ll never know.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.