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.
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Bush’s older brother, former President George W. Bush, had made headway in attracting Hispanics to the GOP. In 2000, he won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote and in 2004, 44 percent. He tried to enact comprehensive immigration reform – securing the borders and establishing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants – but failed to get enough congressional support. Obama has made even less progress than former President Bush on comprehensive reform, though he has tried to gain passage of the DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant children.Skip to next paragraph
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And so while Hispanics are not totally enamored of Obama, they think far less well of Republicans. In a national poll of Latino voters conducted earlier this year for the group Latino Decisions, Barreto found that 52 percent said Democrats were doing a good job of outreach to Hispanics versus only 18 percent who said that Republicans were doing a good job of outreach.
Some Republicans prefer to see the nation’s burgeoning Hispanic population in a positive light, not as a problem.
The poll found only 26 percent of California Latinos view Republicans favorably, while 62 percent see the Democrats favorably. Even if California does not get much attention in the 2012 presidential race – it’s solidly blue – Mr. Wilson believes the data would be similar in other western states that will get attention, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada.
“Among Latino voters, the elephant in the Republican living room is immigration,” says Wilson, who says Arizona's tough immigration law is very unpopular with California Latinos. “If a Republican candidate campaigns on immigration in a negative context – say, like [former Colorado Rep.] Tom Tancredo – then they destroy any possibility of getting a significant percentage of Latino voters.”
But, Wilson continues, if a Republican takes a position on immigration that is both tough on border security but also “realistic” in providing a pathway to citizenship, “then you have the ability to pivot away from immigration and talk about other issues that are important to Latinos – like the economy and education.”
He also mentions three Hispanic Republicans who were elected to state office last November, a first for the GOP: Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. All three can be central in GOP outreach efforts to Latinos – or even potential vice presidential picks in 2012.
But none has the bully pulpit of the president. On Monday, Obama will take part in a town hall at a public high school in Washington focused on Hispanics and education. The session will be broadcast Monday evening on Univision, the Spanish-language TV network.
“Recruitment of Latinos by the GOP does seem to be an uphill battle,” says Stephen Nuno, a political scientist at Northern Arizona University. “But the good news for the GOP is that … this gap in trust can be bridged.”