Can the GOP, and Mitt Romney, reach Latino voters before it's too late?
The GOP is lagging dangerously in its appeal to Latino voters, some party leaders fear, and Mitt Romney's poll numbers are sounding alarm bells. The issue is not just message, but policy.
When Hispanic megastar Marco Rubio ascends the stage at the Republican National Convention Thursday night to introduce Mitt Romney, an issue that poses an “existential” threat to the GOP, in the words of one party leader, will be in full view in prime time: Can the party reach Latino voters before the fast-growing bloc relegates Republicans to a perpetual minority for the next generation?Skip to next paragraph
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Distressed conversations about the party’s inability to win over Latino voters have been a constant, so far, at the convention. Everywhere, that is, except at the podium at the center of the Tampa Bay Times forum.
And the topic of immigration, an emotional issue that resonates deeply for Latinos, has been mentioned from the convention’s dais only twice: Once by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has enacted tough immigration measures in her state, and once by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Latino voters played an important role in fueling President Obama’s victory over Sen. John McCain in 2008, when Mr. Obama claimed
67 percent of the Latino vote to Senator McCain’s 31 percent. Since that time, the Latino share of the national vote has grown by 25 percent, to 8.7 percent of the popular vote.
The most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC/Telemundo poll, however, puts Romney at just 23 percent support among Latinos.
“Where [Romney’s] numbers are right now," said GOP strategist Ana Navarro, "he should be pressing the panic button."
The question for Romney is simple, said Ms. Navarro: “If he doesn’t beat McCain’s numbers, he doesn’t win.”
And that’s only this election cycle. Longer-term, to describe the party’s political challenges as “daunting” is understating the problem many-fold.
Every month for the next 20 years, 50,000 Latino voters will turn 18 – the equivalent of adding the entire state of Vermont to voter rolls each year. Hispanics already make up 40 percent of the population of Texas, and are pushing 30 percent in Nevada and north of 20 percent in Colorado.
Without Hispanic support, “Texas is one bad political environment away from being a presidential swing state,” says Chris Jankowski, the president of the Republican State Leadership Committee that will put some $3 million behind more than 100 Latino candidates for state legislatures during the 2012 election cycle.
A growing consensus
Party leaders from President George W. Bush’s political mastermind Karl Rove and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour to former Republican National Committee chairman and current senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie all agree: The party cannot go on without making serious inroads into the Latino community.
“The Republican Party can’t do with a dynamic, growing part of the electorate like it’s done with the African-American vote, where it found itself in a place where we get five percent we consider ourselves fortunate, 10 percent we’re thrilled, 13 or 14 percent and we’re ecstatic,” Mr. Rove said.
Romney needs to dig deep into Hispanic advertising and television markets, Navarro advises, in order to begin clawing his way back.
There are signs that the Romney campaign is taking the task seriously: It unveiled two Spanish language ads during the convention, gave prime speaking roles to a trio of Hispanic Republican governors and Senator Rubio, and even Romney’s Spanish-speaking son, Craig, gave an address on the convention’s final night.
Yet some observers say they would be surprised to see Romney wade deeply into immigration specifically.