Can Rick Perry Help the GOP Win the Latino Vote?

Given all the attention the GOP Presidential candidates are focusing on Texas Governor Rick Perry, it is safe to say he is now the Republican frontrunner.

Erin McPike, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics tweeted her debate story and a quote by a DNC spokesperson discussing the attention on Perry at this week’s CNN/ Tea Party debate,  “You know what they say: When they’re biting you in the ass, you’re in the lead.” bit.ly/pJJauL

As a three-term Governor of a large state, Perry has experience getting heat from the political right and left. At the debate, his political counterparts attacked his positions, including the Texas Dream Act and illegal immigration. His balanced tone on explaining his decisions on immigration has caught the attention of many. The Atlantic wrote a very interesting piece –Perry and the Hispanic Vote: Why He Might Be the GOP’s Best Shot in 2012″ highlighting his debate performance:

“But the episode showed that Perry could offer the Republican Party its best chance to steal Latino votes from President Obama in a general election — not just because he sits to the left of the other candidates on immigration policy, but because of his tone.

Republicans have harped on “amnesty” and deployed some heated, anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric in recent years; Perry, when confronted on his alleged coddling of illegals, has at his disposal a few practiced lines about Latino contributions to Texas and its economy.

Despite the rough treatment Perry received over in-state tuition, Republicans would do well to nominate a White House hopeful with more liberal immigration views and more experience courting Hispanic votes.”

The Atlantic article by Chris Good focuses on some key points and opportunities for the GOP, including the growth of the Latino electorate, the steady decline of Latino support for President Obama and Rick Perry’s success in courting Hispanic voters.

“In his last gubernatorial election, [Governor Perry] collected 31 percent of the Latino vote, according to CNN exit polls — but, in the four-way race, Perry’s Democratic opponent only collected 41 percent. If Republicans can turn a 36-point deficit into a 10-point deficit nationally in 2012, it will be a major victory for the party — one that shouldn’t be out of reach… “

Hispanics are not single issue voters. Poll have repeatedly shown that their most important issues are jobs and the economy. Latinos have been hit hardest by the failing economy and the recession. According to a Pew study, immigration ranked as the fifth most important issue behind education, jobs, health care, and the federal budget. For many Latinos, immigration become more important when they feel personally attacked if a candidate take an anti-immigrant tone and go off on ugly rhetoric making it an “us versus them” conversation.

The Texas Governor has an impressive record with Latinos, especially compared to their Republican counterparts. As Texas Governor, Perry regularly touts the success of Latinos in his home state and credits much of the “Texas Miracle” to the work of Latinos. In the Lone Star state, Hispanic-owned business have increased by 40 percent over the last decade. Hispanic enrollment in Texas universities have increased by 88 percent. As Governor, Perry appointed Texas’ first Latina Secretary of State, and the first Latina to the Texas Supreme Court.

In many ways it’s ironic that the GOP field is attacking Rick Perry and his efforts to curb illegal immigration, as he is the only one at the debate that as Governor has on the ground experience on directly dealing with the U.S. – Mexico border.

The rest of the GOP line up should wise up on their approach in courting the Latino voter – who now make up major constituencies in key swing states.

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