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Can Republicans salvage the Hispanic vote?

The US Hispanic population is booming – a group that's more likely to vote Democratic. This worries the GOP as Republicans look for ways to connect with this key part of the electorate.

By Staff writer / March 26, 2011

Jonathan Lemuz, of Morrow, Ga., protests state bills which aim to crack down on illegal immigration, during a rally at the capitol in Atlanta, Thursday, March 24, 2011.

John Amis/AP

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Washington

Recruiting just the right candidates and raising gobs of money? Those matter. But the latest census data present a particularly acute challenge for the Republican Party: the dramatic growth of the nation’s Hispanic population over the past 10 years.

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In 2008, President Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote. In 2010, a big Republican year, the Democrats still won 60 percent of Hispanic votes in House races. In 2012, if Hispanics continue to vote disproportionately Democratic, they could give Mr. Obama a critical edge in his reelection bid – especially in key battleground states with large (and growing) Hispanic populations, including Florida, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Nevada.

Census data released Thursday show the Hispanic population rose from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010, a 43 percent increase. Hispanics now constitute 16 percent of the US population, up from 13 percent 10 years ago.

Quiz: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

To academics who study the Latino vote, the Republicans face a demographic emergency, especially if they don’t change their tune on immigration.

“It’s a huge problem not only in 2012, but an even bigger problem in 2016 and 2020,” says Matt Barreto, a political scientist at the University of Washington, Seattle. “By then, it’s devastating to the Republican Party.”

Republican strongholds with big Hispanic populations like Arizona and Texas could eventually go Democratic, if the GOP does not change its approach, Mr. Barreto says.

Some party leaders believe it’s imperative to reach out to Hispanic voters with language that attracts and doesn’t alienate.

“Republicans need to make a better effort at connecting with Hispanic voters,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) wrote Friday in reply to questions from the Monitor. “They naturally share similar ideals and principles – freedom, family, an entrepreneurial spirit, and access to a quality education. The more connected Hispanics feel to the Republican community, the more likely they are to turn out in support of Republicans on Election Day.”

Former Governor Bush touts his new initiative, the Hispanic Leadership Network, which brings together Hispanics and Republicans around policy issues – and away from the anti-illegal immigration rhetoric that damaged the GOP’s image during the last election cycle.

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