The numbers of Latinos are ballooning in battleground states such as New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado and remaking the U.S. political map, political consultants say, arguing that the Hispanic vote also helped defeat Senate Republican candidates Sharron Angle in Nevada and Ken Buck in Colorado.
Mr. Barajas [Hector Barajas, who led Latino outreach for Meg Whitman’s gubernatorial campaign,] said Republicans who don’t consider Latinos in crafting their campaigns may risk “political suicide.” But the party has a big challenge, Mr. Wilson said: “[Latino] folks don’t like us very much.”
One key target: Hispanic small business owners, who are the fastest growing segment of the small business sector, according to the Labor Department. “It’s a coalition that we’re going to fight for this next cycle,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
In 2010, 60% of Latino voters supported Democrats in U.S. House races, compared with 38% supporting Republicans, according to exit-poll data reviewed by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center, a research organization.
A big reason was immigration. A Pew survey found that 51% of Latinos expressed more confidence in the Democratic Party’s immigration agenda than in the GOP’s. Only 19% preferred the Republican approach.
However, the record number of deportations under the Obama administration, and his failure so far to kick-start an immigration-law overhaul, have helped lower Hispanic support for the Democratic Party, said Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions LLC, a nonpartisan research firm in Seattle.
That has some Republicans pointing to an opening for their candidates. Mr. Barajas, now a partner at Revolvis Consulting, a political-consulting firm with offices in Washington, Sacramento and San Diego, has advised the GOP to train Spanish-speaking representatives to woo Latino voters by talking about Republican ideas for improving the economy through easing regulations and lowering taxes as well as promoting charter schools, areas where GOP views may be likelier to resonate with Latinos.
Other consultants say many Latinos have conservative views on issues such as gay marriage and abortion that may align more closely with GOP views.
Mr. Wilson, managing partner at Wilson-Miller Communications Inc. in Sacramento, said that if the topic of immigration arises, Republicans should avoid anti-immigration rhetoric meant to stir up the conservative base. “We’re on safe ground when we say, ‘We have to secure our borders and get a guest-worker program, then work on a pathway for citizenship for people who are already here’–and then quickly pivot off of that and talk about [other] issues important to Latinos,” he said.
Political observers say, though, that more immigration-friendly policies, such as giving citizenship to undocumented workers, could alienate the conservative Republican base.