GOP Targets Hispanic Voters in Swing States

By Caitlin Huey-Burn

Facing a 2-to-1 support gap among Latino voters, the Republican National Committee is dispatching Hispanic operatives to six battleground states to convince the nation’s fastest growing demographic –which is also the hardest hitby the recession — that President Obama cannot be trusted.

“We are going to engage Hispanic and Latinos like we never have before,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said during a conference call with reporters Monday to discuss the latest outreach efforts. By the end of the month, the RNC will have state directors in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia — all of which Obama won in 2008 but which also will be in play in November. The president doubled Sen. John McCain’s tally among Hispanic voters four years ago, and Republicans acknowledge they cannot win back the White House without at least narrowing that deficit.

The directors will focus on engaging Hispanics on a micro level, tailoring their message of economic security to the dynamics of the Latino communities in each place. They will work with community activists to increase Hispanic voter registration and turnout for the GOP.

According to the latest census data, New Mexico has the highest Latino population percentage of the six states, at 46 percent. In Nevada, the figure is 27 percent. Priebus (pictured) said the RNC plans to “channel as many funds to get out the vote in Nevada as possible,” which means “hiring a whole lot of people to send out to Nevada and be helpful on the ground.” In Florida, 23 percent of the population is Latino; in Colorado, 21 percent. Virginia and North Carolina do not have nearly the same numbers — only 8 percent in each state — but both figure to be among the most hotly contested battlegrounds in the presidential race.

In addition to the support gap, Republicans face challenges in their messaging to Hispanic voters. At a breakfast meeting with reporters last month, veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayers said the tone of the immigration debate has hurt the party and cautioned that eventual nominee will have to do a better job of embracing the concerns of this group. That nominee is likely to be Mitt Romney, who has espoused self-deportation as an immigration policy and has pledged to veto the DREAM Act (which would provide citizenship to children of illegal immigrants if they serve in the military or go to college) in its current form. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a young Cuban-American often discussed as a possible vice presidential candidate, has crafted his own version.


Republicans, though, see the economy as the chief gateway to Latino voters. The most recent jobs report finds 10.3 percent of Hispanics unemployed — two points above the national average — and the RNC is shaping its message to this vital constituency around that statistic. Latinos, Priebus argued, “have been bearing the brunt of the Obama economy.”

“The economy is an emotional issue,” he said. “There is nothing really going in the right direction as far as the economy is concerned that [President Obama] can sell to anyone in this country, let alone Hispanics. . . . We will continue talk about the economy in a way that I think appeals to emotion.”

In a similar appeal, Republicans will try to make the case in the six battlegrounds that Obama has failed them by not pushing through immigration reforms despite having a Democratic majority in the House and Senate for the first two years of his term, Priebus said. The RNC will tell Latino voters that “you have a president that has either lied or is so grossly negligent in following through on his promises in regard to immigration that he shouldn’t be trusted,” the RNC chairman said.

Still, Priebus said, the economy is where Republicans can make the greatest inroads with Hispanics. “To believe that somehow a pathway to immigration is the key to the Hispanic and Latino vote in this country is misplaced,” he said.

In an interview with Univision during his just-ended trip to Colombia, the president said he wants to move forward on immigration reform this year, but stressed, “I can promise that I will try to do it in the first year of my second term.”

The rapidly growing Hispanic demographic might help make redder states like Arizona become more competitive for Democrats, who argue that Obama didn’t compete in McCain’s home state four years ago and still lost by only nine points. McCain, though, attracted 41 percent of the Latino vote there, a New York Times story detailing the Obama team’s efforts in Arizona noted.

Priebus dismissed the Obama campaign’s notion that Arizona might be in play in November as “a mirage.”

“To put [Arizona] in the category as a targeted or battleground state is a mindset we’re not adhering to right now,” he said.

This article appeared on RCP on Tuesday 4/17/2012

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