Republicans making effort to speak to Latino priorities

By Matt Mackowiak

Demography is destiny.

For the Republican Party’s future, there is no greater strategic imperative than improving its performance with Hispanic voters for this election and for the foreseeable future.

A 2006 report from the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrates the explosive growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S. From around 15 percent of the population today, it is on pace to grow to nearly a quarter of the population 40 years from now. Just 40 years ago, Hispanics were only 4.7 percent of the population.

The Washington Post recently identified nine swing states that will decide the 2012 presidential election. Three of them have major Hispanic populations: Florida (primarily Cuban and Puerto Rican), Nevada and Colorado. According to estimates by Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions, only eight states have Hispanic voting-age populations greater than 13 percent, and among those, five are likely to be hotly contested in 2012: New Mexico (42.5 percent Latino), Arizona (21.3 percent), Florida (19.2 percent), Nevada (17.3 percent) and Colorado (13.4 percent). If Republican former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wins 31 percent of the Hispanic vote in those five states, the rate that McCain won nationally in 2008, he will likely lose four of them, and perhaps even Arizona.

Can Republicans win Hispanics in 2012?

They have no choice but to try — and they are. There is some room for hope.

A recent poll of 500 Hispanic likely voters conducted by the Tarrance Group, a Republican-leaning firm, for the Libre Initiative, found that while President Barack Obama leads a generic Republican poll 61-31, on the key issues Obama’s support among Hispanics is weak.

According to a McClatchy report, “a majority of Hispanics 51 percent in the nation, 54 percent in Florida say it’s harder to open businesses now than it was four years ago. More than half say the country is on the wrong track. More than eight in 10 Hispanics are concerned with the federal government’s debt, and 54 percent nationally 57 percent in Florida want to see less government spending.”

The key takeaway appears to be that Hispanic voters are predisposed to vote Democratic but are not thrilled with doing so. If Republicans can make a solid argument, focused on the economy and opportunity, they have an excellent chance to persuade Hispanic voters.

There is also some room for despair. Last week, the Obama campaign launched Latinos for Obama, its national effort to attract support, which included Spanish-language ads in key battleground states like Nevada, Colorado and Florida. The most recent Gallup poll put Obama’s approval rating among Latinos at 61 percent. A recent Fox News survey of “likely Hispanic voters” found just 14 percent saying they would support Romney over Obama. Recall that in 2008, Arizona Sen. John McCain won 31 percent of the Latino vote, down from the 40 percent that President George W. Bush won in 2004.

The Republican National Committee last week announced that it has hired state directors to court Latino voters in six battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia and New Mexico. The RNC is focusing time, resources and staff on identifying Hispanic voters, communicating with them and activating them. As RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said recently, “We are going to engage Hispanics and Latinos like we never have before.” The RNC believes it can work, citing Obama’s failures on the economy, jobs and the DREAM Act as reasons for Hispanic voters to be willing to consider voting Republican.

A rising star in the Republican Party, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is developing a Republican DREAM Act alternative, which would allow young undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States legally, but denies them citizenship a middle path that he hopes the Republican base would accept and that Democrats could support.

“We have to come up with an immigration system that honors both our legacy as a nation of laws and also our legacy as a nation of immigrants,” Rubio recently said.

Hispanics care most about three things: faith, family and love of country. They deeply believe in the American dream because they have dreamed it and they have achieved it. The party that best speaks to these core ideals will be rewarded at the ballot box this November.

Mackowiak is an Austin- and Washington-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. He has been an adviser to two U.S. senators and a governor, and has advised federal and state political campaigns across the country.

this article appeared on the Austin Stateman on Sunday 4/21/2012

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