Which GOP Candidate Can Win the Latino Vote?

On paper, the field of GOP presidential candidates is a unique sort, especially in the context of “Latino issues.”

Of the Republicans currently declared for president, we have four candidates hailing from states with high Latino populations (over 10%), two are border-state governors, one is married to a Mexican-American, another launched a conservative Latino news site, and one candidate’s father was born in Mexico.

While these tidbits of trivia do not paint a complete picture of the GOP candidate’s efforts to court Hispanic voters, they do highlight one reality: Latinos are an integral part of American life.  According to the U.S. Census one out of every six people living in America are of Hispanic descent.

Latino turnout in 2012 is expected to reach a historic 12.2 million voters about 8.7% of the national electorate. A projected 26% increase from 2008.

Already, the 2012 election has been marked by a renewed focus on courting the growing Hispanic vote.  The first major political ads buys of the 2012 cycle talked about the dismal economy – in Spanish.

Republican groups, like Crossroads GPS and the Republican National Committee (RNC), have earmarked millions of dollars for political advertising in major media markets with dense Latino population, pushing ads in English and Spanish. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) reacted by mimicking GOP efforts with their own multi-million dollar Spanish-language media buy targeting Hispanic voters.

For President Obama to claim victory in 2012, he needs heavy turnout from his base and a repeat level of support from the Latino voters. In 2008, Obama won 67% of the Hispanic vote while Senator John McCain only captured 31%.  Since taking office Obama’s approval has plummeted among Latinos, losing as much as 30% since 2009.

This upcoming election will be about margins. Small margins. An August 2011 Gallup Poll shows that as many as 12 states are in play. While logic would dictate many of these states will turn deep Red or Blue in the next 15 months, a core group of states, many with significant Latino populations, will likely be too close to call until the final hour. Some of these swing states include:

  • Florida (29 Electoral Votes) – 15% of eligible voters are Latino
  • Arizona (11 Electoral Votes) – 18% of eligible voters are Latino
  • Nevada (6 Electoral Votes) – 14% of eligible voters are Latino
  • New Mexico (5 Electoral Votes) – 38% of eligible voters are Latino
  • Colorado (9 Electoral Votes) – 13% of eligible voters are Latino

Keys to Winning Hispanic Voters:

For the GOP to connect with Hispanic they must understand three key things:

1) Latinos are not a monolithic voting bloc and like all things in campaigns, politics is local. Hispanics in Florida are different from Latinos in Nevada.

2) Don’t change your message, but be culturally relevant and consistent. The last things Latinos want is a slick pandering politician that says one thing in English and another thing in Spanish. (P.S. most Latinos are bilingual.) Candidates must offer honest solutions to the problems plaguing Hispanics, and all Americans.

3) Start now! Connecting with Latinos is about establishing a long-term relationship based on mutual respect.  For too long “Hispanic Outreach” has been based on a politically expedient one-way relationship where some well-meaning politician busts out the Mariachi band for a photo-op on Cinco de Mayo and Hispanic Heritage Month, never to be heard from again. All Americans deserve better than that.

There is a lot more that goes into an effective Hispanic engagement strategy. It is important to have a knowledgeable campaign staff with experience in Latino civic engagement, communicate an agenda that speaks to issues personally impacting Hispanics and have an aggressive Hispanic media relations effort. Campaigns must deploy strong surrogates to deliver the campaign’s message in both English and Spanish. Yet, if the candidate doesn’t understand the three key concepts, voters are smart enough to know the difference.

The economy will be a major issue in this election cycle, as Hispanics have been hardest hit by the economic recession. Yet, connecting with Latinos is much more complex than a single issue, it’s about creating a respectful dialogue, especially on immigration.

Lets take a look at each of the declared GOP candidates and their campaign efforts to connect with Latinos. All who responded highlighted the importance of the Hispanic electorate. Yet, only two campaigns have publicly named specific individuals focused on Hispanic engagement efforts.


As the 2012 contest moves into full throttle, lets look at how each of GOP candidates stack up against the Obama campaign machine. In particular, their experience connecting with Latino voters and their political operation focused on courting this important swing vote.

Latino Romney?:

While Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, we won’t exactly call Mitt Romney a Latino. Unless he “suddenly” identified with his family’s Mexican history.

The elder Romney, who served as C.E.O of American Motors and a Michigan governor, was born in a Mormon colony in Mexico in 1907. At the age of three, George and his monogamous American born parents fled their Mexican home due to violence caused by the Mexican Revolution and became refugees in America. He told his story in 1959 in an interview with Time Magazine.

During his 2008 run for President, Romney’s campaign had a full Latino engagement operation, with a bilingual spokesperson, a translated Spanish website and the candidate attended Hispanic events. He had a large network of Hispanic activists and bilingual surrogates. Mitt Romney’s son, Craig, who is fluent in Spanish, was regularly deployed to discuss Romney’s agenda to Spanish-language media and Latino audiences.

In a 2008 interview, Romney Senior Advisor Alex Castellanos said “You want to demonstrate to folks that you not only address the concerns that they have but you want to address those concerns in a language they speak.”

Recently the Romney campaign seemed to be ramping up their Hispanic efforts. Romney attacked President Obama’s failed record with Hispanics, pointing to the dismal job creation and weak economy impacting Latino families. The comments were made during the President’s appearance at NCLR’s national conference.

His 2008 efforts were not enough to capture the Latino vote or win the Florida primary. We are not quite clear what his 2012 Latino engagement efforts will include.

An Amigo in Rick Perry?:

Probably no other candidate in the current 2012 field has more experience with Latino communities than the three-term Texas Governor Rick Perry. As governor of the state with the second largest Hispanic population, nearly 38% of the state, he has personally dealt with U.S.–Mexico border issues and creating relationships with Latino voters.

It is a rapport he has cultivated over the years. Exit polls show that Perry received 39% of the Latino vote in his 2010 re-election campaign, a gain of 25 points from his previous election.  While Latinos in Texas predominately register as Democrat, a 2010 survey stated that 54% of Texas Latinos self identified as “conservative.” In last midterm elections, Hispanics gave the GOP a boost, electing five new Hispanic Republicans to the State House and two to U.S. Congress.

Perry has teetered on a political tight rope, balancing the interests of Texas’ growing Latino community and appeasing his conservative base, especially on issues of immigration law. Both sides have attacked him for either being too tough or too soft.

Speaking at the NALEO annual conference in San Antonio, Perry connected the economic success of the state with its Latino population, saying “It’s no stretch to suggest the future of Texas is tied directly to the future of our Hispanic population.” Perry highlighted his Latino appointees, the growth of Latino small business and rising Latino college enrollment, which has increased by 88%.

Being that the Perry for President campaign has operated for about two weeks, we are not sure what resources he will dedicate to connect with Latinos, especially those outside of Texas. We expect he will incorporate similar tactics from previous campaigns, including Spanish language media buys, speaking with Latino focused audiences, deploying surrogates and an assertive Latino inclusion strategy.

A Conservative (Latino) Thinker:

Newt Gingrich has had his ups and downs with Latino voters. Yet, the forward thinking former Speaker of the House early on saw an opportunity to connect with the growing Hispanic population.

As early as 2007, Gingrich hired staff dedicated to “Hispanic Inclusion” in the name of Sylvia Garcia at Gingrich Communications coordinating a variety of Latino focused efforts in English and Spanish. In 2009, he launched The Americano, a bilingual conservative Latino news site.

As the presidential campaign geared up, members of Gingrich Communications joined the Gingrich 2012 establishing a weekly newsletter to communicate directly with Latino voters, opened a “Hispanic Inclusion” headquarters in Miami, Florida and created a bilingual site, Para Latinos for Newt.org. The Gingrich campaign is only one of two campaigns to publicly announce a dedicated effort to court Latinos.

Gingrich himself has taken Spanish lessons, speaks at large Latino gatherings and has appeared on Spanish-language media. The second interview he did after he officially announced his candidacy for President was on Univision’s Al Punto with Jorge Ramos.

Recently he hired Lionel Sosa, a Latino media consultant who has worked on several Presidential campaigns, including developing some of President Bush’s key messaging to Latino voters. Sosa said:

“To Newt, Latinos are a priority in his campaign and not an afterthought. When I first met him in 1999, he already knew as much about the Latino heart and mind as most Latino marketing experts. He’s right on the issues and the only Republican brave enough to confront the immigration issue head on, advocating more work visas for undocumented workers.”

Huntsman’s Florida Focus:

Earlier this month, Jon Huntsman’s campaign announced the support of seasoned Republican operative Ana Navarro, who will serve as the National Hispanic Chairperson. The Huntsman and Gingrich campaigns are the only presidential contenders to announce an official effort to connect with Latino voters.

“Hispanics are crucial to winning Florida,” said Navarro. The campaign aims to connect directly with Florida’s Hispanic voters by visiting local communities. The strategy was discussed during an English interview with Univision. Navarro served as chairman of John McCain’s National Hispanic Advisory Council in 2008. McCain won the Florida Republican primary with 54% of the Hispanic vote, giving him a decisive win during his fight for the GOP nomination.  In the general, Obama won Florida with 57% of the Latino vote.

Jeb Bush Jr., the son of the popular former Florida Governor, also threw his support behind Huntsman. While, Bush Jr., will help Huntsman reach young voters, he also heads a Florida Hispanic outreach group, SunPAC.

The addition of Bush and Navarro is part of a continued effort to strengthen Huntsman’s ties to Latinos and likely part of a Florida strategy. At a recent Miami press conference announcing his new Hispanic endorsers, the former U.S. Ambassador to China clarified his Cuba policy, including support of sanctions against the communist island. He has moderate views on immigration.

Huntsman has been slow to gain traction in the polls, including in Florida, where his campaign is headquartered.  That is in stark contrast to his re-election for Utah Governor in 2008 when he won 77.7% of the vote. While Latinos make up 12% of the state, they have a very low turn out rate, making up 2% of all Utah voters in 2008.

Mixed Bag:

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, might be great at winning support with Iowa Republicans as demonstrated by her Ames victory. Yet, we are not sure how she will do with Latinos and voters nationwide. Minnesota Latinos make up 1.9% of all eligible voters in the state. Her stance on immigration issues scored her a B- with Numbers USA, their highest grade for all Presidential candidates, but her views might be a challenge for her in Florida and in the various Western states. Bachmann is new to large scale campaigning. She has been criticized for her decision to skip the Florida straw poll, a key swing state that has made and broken many presidential aspirations.

Ames Straw Poll runner-up Congressman Ron Paul, told USA Today he places a “high value” on Hispanic outreach. In his home state of Texas, Hispanics are projected to be over 21% of the total share of voters.  We aren’t clear what specific efforts he has in place to attract Hispanic voters, same applies for businessman Herman Cain, former Senator Rick Santorum, and former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer.

Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico Governor, is familiarly acquainted with the importance of Hispanic voters and issues of dealing with the U.S.-Mexico border. His home state has the largest percentage of eligible Latino voters, 38%.  Yet, like many struggling in the polls, he has a limited coordinated effort geared towards Latino voters. Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, who is married to a Mexican-American, has experience talking to Spanish-language media and has won the support of Latino Republicans in his home state. He recently launched a Spanish version of his web site.

Like all swing votes, winning over Hispanics will not be easy for either Republicans or President Obama.  There is no doubt that the GOP has a huge opportunity to gain traction with Hispanics frustrated with the dismal economy and disillusioned by the President’s broken promises.

The GOP should learn from their past experience with Hispanics to ensure success in the future. If they don’t the Presidential bid will remain a wish, at least for another four years.


John Hawkins, editor of RightWingNews.com, contributed to this post.

This article is cross posted on RightWingNews.com http://rightwingnews.com/john-hawkins/which-gop-candidate-can-win-the-latino-vote/


  1. The Latino community in the US is proactive when it comes to electing rulers that favor or validate this section of the voters. Most are middle ground liberal but when it comes to their issues, thet clearly favor those that acknowledge the need for an Immigration Reform that complies with the contributions of the Latino world in the US. Something that is largely over-sought and as well, Latino considerations had been only valid when it comes to undocumented Latinos. That while the rest is ignored. The GOP candidates not only had made remarks in regards of this hate, fear issue against Latinos, but had not offered any agenda to take care of the entire scope of this problem with the south border neighbors.
    Contrary to this, Obama offered to address this issue, something that at least in theory offers something to the millions of Latinos in the US and their families. That in view, it is not a matter of conservative or liberal views but to tackle the needed issues, setting the parameters for all. Sadly, in both cases, the south border and the US, drug trafficking has been used by the politicians and media to propagate more despair and anger against the Latinos. Although “somehow’ related, but totally foreign to the law abiding Latinos in the US.
    Now responding to your question: No candidate has offered a realistic, nor justified view about this minority. Therefore, only those that are clearly right wing partisans seem to be the potential voters in 2012. Although your statistics maybe official, I suspect the Latino participation in this coming elections will grow in the same proportion that it did during the 2008 elections. But there is only one way to find out. See the statistics once the next president has been elected. Latinos are well known for surprising the all forecasts.

    Rate This

    By Isis Win

    We are about a year away from Presidential Elections and although it may seem too early to start getting involved, actually this is the right time. We’ve already seeing the republicans feuding among themselves to find their official candidacy. Frankly, after what I’ve seeing through the debates, not even putting the best of each of the possible runner, there is not a possible chance to find someone who offer what is needed to rule the country, as needed, for the next period. In fact, it is truly hard to believe that such characters are hopefuls to the highest office. Not only politically immature but as well, ridiculously uneducated, without a true national and world vision and clearly, all with many personal issues, flaws and shortcomings! Who doesn’t, right? Ok, I give you that one but in someone who for the next four years will determine the future of the American people and the placement of the USA in the world? Give me a break! Frankly, these candidates are as bad and ridiculous as what you can see in many third world countries!

    On the other side, we have as a possible option: President Obama. What a? Do we have doubts about him? Geeez! I’ve heard a few Latino bothers and sisters, particularly their elders saying: He betrayed us. He never delivered what he promised us when elected. He said to lie down a migratory reform that would insure us confidence and legal status and address the border problem in a way that our Latino brothers would not have to risk their lives to make a living. What a? I’ve heard that over and over and I wonder when he said that because I never heard it. And I promise you: I didn’t because I didn’t pay any attention to his promises or all he’s done through his administration. Frankly, I have no reason to “defend him” as an African-American lady said a few years ago – because she was tired of doing so. First, he doesn’t need to be defended because he hasn’t done anything wrong nor he is neglecting his promises. President Obama has been facing one the worse situations an US president has faced in our history. And I am not exclusively talking about facing the mortgage and banking bubble, the largest unemployment in who knows how many decades, a lethargic financial growth, a pathetic situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, a delicate situation with the Arab nations revolting, the chronic lack of confidence among the American people, etc, etc, etc. We can’t simply overlook the fact that the republicans, namely the congress enticed by the Tea Partiers have literally opposed to anything he’s said, inquired and done. However, we still are on our feet, we are pushing the engine, with trouble and low in gas but we are not at the brink of what we where just a few months before he was elected. Maybe that is nothing to the republicans, perhaps that is nothing to the democrats but it is a lot to the American people at large. This doesn’t have anything to do with partisan politics and policies but every single note coming from him has been used against him. What has been thrown against him, has been against the American people. However, a lot of people seem to overlook that very important fact.

    We need to get started to work on educating those that have the wrong idea of what Obama promised, “should” deliver and never did. It is time to teach the Latino brothers than he is not the least evil of the two. He is the only possibility at this stage. But as well, a second term will insure that some of the items he wanted to deliver for the American people will be delivered. As well, that the engine behind the republicans, the same engine that provoked the financial crisis, unbalance of health services and providers, the one behind the war in Iraq and Afghanistan , yep also the rich and affluent people. President Obama wants to change that order and not because he is a Socialist wanting to change our ruling system, as some people accuse him. He is not a socialist, he is a social conscious individual! Exactly what the country has been in need of for a few generations.

    Today a year before elections, we must make sure the republicans will not take power this coming election! If they do, thousands of long-term residents but undocumented immigrants, will be jailed and/or deported. Even if they have children born in the US. Our south border will become a war zone against the poor people who are willing to risk their life in favor of supporting their poor families back home.
    The denied rights of all LGBT people will become a fantasy for the unforeseeable future. Women will have to travel the south border to have an abortion. Our presence in the Middle East will be not about monitoring the balance in the region but total control of all the unstable countries seeking for democracy. Therefore, increasing more animosity among the Arab people if we increase our power in the region. And much more. In other words, we will get close to a totalitarian and dictatorial system in which the rich and moralists in the far side of the spectrum, will place their muscle on the rest of the population! Just look around and see the unbalance of wealth, power and opportunity between the poor and the rich! And in case you’ve not notices: those that side with the far right , are not rich but are totally capable of doing whatever it takes to become one of them!

    Start campaigning now! Don’t wait until a few weeks before because a grand number of the voters need to learn the truth about what has been happening in the country and to the country! Although this message is for all that have a social consciousness and support open-minded policies, the Latino community is the one that will suffer the most if a Republican takes power at the White House. We’ve already seeing the results of losing leverage at the House of Representatives. Although it is hard to believe, a number of Latinos are Republican but invariably they are after finding opportunity and a future at any cost. Now, they seek for higher social and financial gains. What the Republican party offers in exchange for their support. And why is that? Most Republicans were born with a silver spoon in their mouth and everyone else wants the same spoon!

    If you can think, speak and walk, then get involved now! Otherwise it will be too late and too bad. You vote will be good, but we most work towards making sure most of us vote for the positive future of our nation and the entire population. Not just the few that want to keep America as in the 1800s.

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