I was interviewed on PBS News Hour on Republican efforts to connect with Hispanic voters. Debating against Senator Bob Menendez, I discussed President Obama’s failures and the GOP’s proactive plan to engage Hispanics.

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A new poll by Latino Decisions shows that about half of Latino voters are still undecided on who to vote for President and are not excited about the upcoming 2012 election. The data is bad news for President Obama who needs a super majority of Latino support, about 75%, to secure a second term in the White House.

The new poll examined a variety of topics including likely voter turnout and important policy issue facing Latinos, economy and jobs still remain at the top of that list. Latino Decisions poll also asked about the role of religion in Latino political attitudes, the impact of Marco Rubio on a presidential ticket and the efforts of both political parties in engaging Hispanic voters.

While the ever changing Republican primary has generated a lot of media attention, it has done little to excite the average Hispanic voter about the Presidential election. Only 44% of Latino voters said they are very enthusiastic about participating in next year’s U.S. presidential election, compared with 47% in October and 50% in August.

When examining Latino attitudes towards the GOP and the Republican Party it is clear that there is much work to be done. About 20% of Latino respondents said they are certain or are considering voting for a Republican candidate. Half of Latinos feel the Republican Party  is doing a poor job in connecting with Hispanics. This can be turned into an opportunities for Republican candidates to connect and motivate Hispanic voters who aren’t currently engaged in the political debate. A recent Univision poll found that a majority of Latino voters still were not familiar with the Republican presidential field.

A rare topic that was examined by the Latino Decisions poll was religion and politics from the perspective of Latino voters. It found that while Latinos are somewhat more religious as compared to non-Latinos, their religious beliefs are far less relevant to their political attitudes. 53% of respondents said that religion had no impact on their vote and about 55% of Latinos don’t care about a candidate’s religion. When asked about Mormonism,  less than 1/3 of Latinos know that Mormonism is a form of Christianity – a question that was clearly aimed at understanding Latino attitudes towards Republican Mitt Romney.

Read the full report and see the slide deck on the poll at Latino Decisions: “Latinos not very enthusiastic about the 2012 election

“…The impreMedia/Latino Decisions poll began measuring the election preferences of Latino voters in February of this year. It has been measuring their enthusiasm for voting in next year’s presidential election and their potential support for President Obama and a Republican rival. In six separate polls, Latino voters’ tendency to identify with the Democrats and President Obama’s approval rating among the majority of Latinos—except for Latino Republicans—have fluctuated somewhat, but have generally remained above 60%. Nevertheless, the voting intentions and enthusiasm of Latinos, which are crucial for Barack Obama’s re-election in states such as Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and even Arizona, which is now said to be up for grabs, are not as positive for the president as could be expected. “On the Democratic side, there’s no competition or much discussion. In 2008, as we remember, there was a lot of enthusiasm around the race, particularly between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama,” said Barreto….”

When talking to Latino voters, what is more important: the tone of the debate or the substance? That is the constant question asked by candidates, perplexed on how to effectively connect with the growing Hispanic electorate, scheduled to reach 12.2 million voters in 2012.  Even though the economy, jobs and education continue to be top issues for Latino voters, immigration has dominated the conversation.

Campaign & Elections Magazine has a new post by Chris Palko titled “Winning the Hispanic vote in 2012.” He states that recent numbers indicate that tone trumps substance on immigration. He also suggests some other topics candidates should focus on, including government spending, education and national security.

“…The media’s focus influences strategists from both political parties who routinely view the key to winning Hispanic voters as championing some form of immigration reform. But is immigration really the main issue of concern for Hispanics? Not by a long shot. The No.1 issue that Hispanic voters care about is education…

…Republicans do have an image problem among most Hispanic voters, but it is not a crushing deficit and there is room for improvement. Democrats, meanwhile, are more trusted overall, although they are far from beloved. In many respects, the immigration issue is a proxy for “respecting the Hispanic community.” If there are image problems for Republicans among Hispanics, it has more to do with a perceived lack of respect than the details of an immigration policy. Moreover, Republican politicians could make inroads with Hispanic voters if they indicate that they respect the community, and refrain from demonizing immigrants…” READ MORE

The reason tone is so important in efforts to connect with Hispanics is easy, a Latino will not consider a candidate if he/she feels the tone of that person is harsh or anti-Latino. A candidate can be offering all the answers in the world, be full of great substance, but if a Latino feels the candidate hates Latinos, the candidates is not going to get that vote.

As the 2012 election inches closer, Republican candidates must ensure they are connecting and engaging Hispanic voters.  Recently, the Obama campaign announced their National Latino Vote Director. On the Republican side, only Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman have announced official efforts to court Latino voters.

A recent Univision poll has Obama ahead of GOP Presidential candidates. Yet, it also showed that Republican candidates have made little effort to connect with Hispanic voters, and have low name identification.

“At the moment, Latinos are not very familiar with the slate of Republican candidates. Over half – 53 percent – have never no opinion of or have never heard of Cain, for instance…

All four of the following candidates – Romney, Perry, Cain and Gingrich – have net negative favorability ratings among Latinos. And Romney, whom political insiders view as the favorite for the GOP nomination, is unknown to many Latinos: 46 percent say they have no opinion or have never heard of him.

Only 13 percent of Latinos say the GOP has done a good job reaching out to them, while 42 percent say Republicans don’t care too much about them and 30 percent believe they are being openly hostile. By comparison, 45 percent of Latinos believe that Democrats have done a good job of reaching out them, while 32 percent say they are apathetic. Only eight percent say they are openly hostile.”

Republicans have a major opportunity this election cycle to connect with Latino voters, given the growing disenchantment with Obama among Hispanics and the general electorate. In order for the GOP to win the White House, they need Latinos, about 40% of the support of the Hispanic community to win. Efforts to engage Hispanic must start now for the Republican Party to have a real chance to win in November 2012.


Marco Rubio, the freshman U.S. Senator from Florida, has been in the political spotlight since his stunning victory in the 2010-midterm elections. Supported by Tea Party activists, independents and Hispanics voters, his crossover appeal caught the eyes of national media. In recent days, the Cuban-American Rubio has been attacked on all sides, for not being Cuban-Exile enough, American-enough and Latino-enough. It’s a ridiculous and shameful assault, which many feel is an attempt to tarnish the career of a promising Hispanic Republican.

This week the attacks on Rubio continue as the media hunts for tabloid stories on the rising Republican star, often mentioned as a potential 2012 Vice Presidential candidate.  As reporters and pundits are hungry for new angles in their 2012 election coverage, they’ve sharpened their attacks on Rubio, alluding that he isn’t Hispanic enough to connect with Hispanic voters. Their analysis is an over simplification, at best, of the often-complicated Latino vote.

Senator Rubio has repeatedly stated he is solely focused on being the U.S. Senator from Florida and currently has no interest in higher office.  He won his senate seat with a strong majority of Latino voters across demographic and political lines.

In Florida, where Hispanic Democrats outnumber Hispanic Republicans by 105,000 voters, Marco Rubio won 55 percent of the Hispanic vote. He won the support of 40 percent of non-Cuban Latinos in the three-way race against a popular Democrat, Kendrick Meek, and an independent candidate, the sitting Florida Governor Charlie Crist.  A Latino Decisions Poll shows that Rubio won as much as 62% of the Hispanic vote.

Rubio helped the Florida GOP appeal to Latino voters in 2010. Only two years before, Barack Obama
won 57 percent of the Latino vote in Florida in 2008. Even now, a recent Resurgent Republic poll shows

As the election gets closer, and more and more politicos ponder the Latino vote, I wanted to re-post a blog I did a few weeks ago asking: Which GOP candidate will win the Latino voteThe hard reality for all Presidential candidates is that all roads to the White House depend on Latino support. For a Republican to win the general election, they will need about 40% of the Hispanic vote. In the hunt to secure key votes in swing states, candidates will need to woo Latinos who makeup major voting constituencies in battle ground states like New Mexico, Nevada, Florida… 

As we move into the final days of 2011 and into the full sprint of the GOP Primary season, here are some thoughts for my Republican colleagues:

Keys to Winning Hispanic Voters:

For the GOP to connect with Hispanics the Republican candidates 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


While Obama is campaigning for support of his jobs plan, Americans are analyzing their options for the 2012 election. Tonight, the Republican Presidential candidates will gather in Las Vegas, NV for a CNN debate. Many voters are wondering which of these GOP candidates can offer a real alternative to President Obama? Voters have all but lost faith in Washington D.C. and in politicians to fix the economy. The question is, which candidate can give Americans confidence in America?

The race for the GOP Presidential nomination has been a fascinating spectacle for political junkies given the large candidate field, the fluctuating primary calendar and the unique political environment. The “top-tier” of candidates has been constantly changing as Republican voters struggle to make up their minds. In many ways the 2012 GOP Presidential primary season has always been about two people: Mitt Romney versus the not-Romney candidate.

The last several weeks has cemented Mitt Romney as the GOP frontrunner. Tonight, in the eighth GOP debate, focus will be on Romney as he makes the case that he is the most electable and most likely to beat President Obama. The other focus will be placed on Herman Cain and the one time frontrunner Rick Perry. Even with major mis-steps in past debates, the Texas Governor has been able to hold on to Presidential hopes given his fundraising power.

I spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle about the GOP candidates and specifically if Rick Perry still has a chance to become a top-tier candidate again. I was asked specifically about Perry’s appeal to Latino voters, given that the debate is taking place in Nevada, which has a 26% Latino population.

SF CHRON: “Rick Perry moves to stem immigration backlash

“Bettina Inclan, a California Republican consultant, said Perry still has a chance to differentiate himself from other Republicans as a candidate with a track record on immigration, in contrast to Cain, who joked this week about an “electrified” fence on the border, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who pledges to build a fence the entire length of the border.

‘At the end of the day, Perry is the only presidential candidate who has real experience in dealing with a diverse Latino community,’ Inclan said.”

Things are constantly changing but here some thoughts on what to expect tonight:

Mitt Romney: Expect another great debate performance by the GOP frontrunner.  Romney, who exudes confidence, will try to establish himself as the adult in the room. He will make the point that his unique experience in both the private and pubic sector makes him the only candidate to successfully deal with the economy. Romney’s biggest challenge will be to excite the base and get more conservatives on his side. He will likely poke holes in Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, as well as continue to attack Rick Perry, seeing Perry’s Texas size fundraising skills as one of his biggest hurdles in Romney’s road to the nomination.

Herman Cain: A long time Tea Party favorite, Cain he has used his engaging personality and speaking abilities to skyrocket to the top of the national polls. (Leaving many in the political chattering class scratching their

A growing number of Hispanics are becoming politically involved, on both sides of the aisle. In 2008, 40% of new registered voters were Latinos. Many more will join the political fold and becoming a larger voice in the upcoming Presidential election. NALEO expects the Hispanic vote will increase by 26% in 2012, casting a record-breaking 12.2 million votes.

The Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN) hopes to engage these politically minded Latinos on center-right issues and attract them to the Republican Party. The group, a spinoff of the conservative American Action Network, recently had a conference in New Mexico as part of a national effort to directly connect with grassroots Latino conservatives.

I had the pleasure of speaking at the HLN New Mexico conference (#HLNMN on twitter) on a panel titled “Effective Advocacy: Your Voice is Your Power.”  Focusing on proven techniques used by the panelist, we discussed how the attendees could use these effective advocacy techniques in their own communities.  Watch the video to see the full panel: