GOP success strategy: Recruit more Hispanics (like Marco Rubio) and women

Without saying a word, Sen. Marco Rubio will send a key message to Republicans in his response to President Obama's State of the Union address. The GOP must engage minority voters, especially Hispanics, as well as women. And it must actively recruit such candidates.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, who will give the GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union address tonight, speaks with The Associated Press in his Capitol Hill office on Feb. 7. Op-ed contributor Ed Gillespie writes: 'Small government, free enterprise, personal freedom, and an entrepreneurial spirit are the core of Republican philosophy, but how we communicate this and who communicates it is crucial.'

Without even saying a word, Sen. Marco Rubio is sending an important message to Republicans in his response to President Obama's State of the Union address tonight.

As the election showed, unless Republicans see an increase in support from minority voters, especially Hispanics such as Mr. Rubio who are the fastest growing segment of the electorate, the Republican Party's chances of future success are grim. We must have a long-term, sustained engagement with minorities and also with women – rooted in electing a new generation of leaders who accurately represent the electorate – if we are to gain a new Republican majority.

And here's another key message from the election: In Republican-led states, our policies work and voters recognize it. For example, in 2012 Republicans made a net gain in legislative chambers in six states won by Mr. Obama: New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. Republicans saw a net gain in 30 chambers, increased the number of states under complete Republican legislative control from 25 to 26 and now hold veto-proof majorities in 16 states – up from 13 in 2012. Currently, 53 percent of Americans live in states where Republicans control both the legislature and the governorship, according to the Pew Center on the States.

Building more diversity in GOP support within our states is the critical link to expanding the scope and reach of our Republican message nationwide.

Small government, free enterprise, personal freedom, and an entrepreneurial spirit are the core of Republican philosophy, but how we communicate this and who communicates it is crucial. As an Irish Catholic, I've seen my share of politicians at St. Patrick's Day parades and Knights of Columbus halls, and there's no doubt that voters relate more readily to candidates with whom they identify.

In only the last few years, national messengers have emerged from state-level office – including Senators Rubio of Florida and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez – who have not only led in the legislative and policy arena, but have also advanced the GOP's reach in some of the most effective ways. It's a dynamic we need to see more of, and it does not happen overnight.

Studies have shown that sometimes, you just need the right person to ask a qualified candidate to run.

A 2011 study by professors Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox reveals that among several reasons why more women don't run for public office, not being asked is one of them. A gender gap exists in recruiting that favors men over women by 7 to 10 percentage points. Whether the suggestion to run comes from someone outside of politics or someone inside, more men than women are being encouraged to seek public office. Republican leaders need to do a better job of encouraging, supporting, and training new and different candidates for office.

Fortunately, the groundwork is underway and already producing results. In 2011, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) launched the Future Majority Project (FMP) – a long-term, sustained initiative that commits significant contributions of time and resources to support and elect women, African Americans, and Americans of Hispanic and Asian descent to state offices.

The results are encouraging. After investing more than $5 million in the Future Majority Project in the last election cycle, 15 new Republican candidates of Hispanic descent and 84 new Republican women were elected to state-level office in 36 states. That adds up to 99 Republican officeholders, newly elected in 2012, who are now communicating the Republican message. By putting these candidates on the first step of the escalator to higher office, we have a more diverse pool of potential governors, members of Congress, and, one day, president.

This is only the beginning of what must be a sustained process. The saying goes that compound interest is "the most powerful force in the universe," and the same could be said for effective officeholders. In 2010, none of these 99 leaders were in place, but now they are joining together as a caucus to recruit and support other candidates to "compound" the Republican ranks.

Last week, they formed the Future Majority Caucus, led by co-chairs Governors Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada. This caucus of current elected officials will support the goals of the Future Majority Project, and will expand the scope of recruitment and support offered by the Republican State Leadership Committee to reflect the full diversity of our nation.

This shifting dynamic must be executed in all areas of our party – messaging, grassroots, technical support, and electing the next generation of leaders.

Our states are setting the example of how to grow the economy, support job creators, and focus on ways to keep more money in the pockets of working families. But our future majority will materialize only if we successfully execute in these key policy areas and welcome everyone to take part.

Ed Gillespie is chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee and the former chairman of the Republican Party.

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