GOP Presidential Hopefuls Look for Ways to Woo Latino Voters

Carla Marinucci and Joe Garofoli, The Seattle Times, January 23, 2012

With former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s robust South Carolina victory injecting a new uncertainty into the contest for the GOP presidential nomination, the campaign battleground now moves to Florida and Nevada—where Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing electorate, wield increasing clout.

Even before his win, Gingrich’s campaign already was competing hard for Latino support against GOP front-runner Mitt Romney.

The Gingrich team sent out Spanish-language emails to Cuban pro-democracy activists in Florida over the weekend and aired ads in Spanish attempting to define the former Massachusetts governor as anti-immigrant and too closely tied to Cuba’s leaders, brothers Fidel and Raul Castro. Romney’s campaign countered by pointing to a parade of high-profile Latino endorsers in Florida, which holds its primary Jan. 31. {snip}

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The Republican National Committee (RNC), looking ahead to the general election, has begun a new offensive to woo the powerhouse Latino electorate, expected to top 12 million voters in 2012—up more than 25 percent from 2008 when two-thirds of them are estimated to have voted for President Obama.

“Democrats are trying very hard to avoid talking about Barack Obama,” said Bettina Inclan, a California-based GOP strategist hired this month as the RNC’s new director of Hispanic Outreach.

The energetic young strategist with Mexican and Cuban roots heads a GOP effort that recently released the first Spanish-language ads of the 2012 contest, an effort aimed at winning the votes of Latinos in key states including California, Texas and Ohio, where they have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats.

“You have to invite people to join the party” first, said Inclan, former executive director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly and part of the GOP team that helped elect Florida Gov. Rick Scott. “We have a very aggressive effort, and we at the RNC are trying to make sure people make an informed decision.”

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The stakes for capturing the Latino vote are high. A Public Policy Center of California poll last year found that the state’s 14 million Latinos make up 37 percent of the population and 18 percent of its electorate in the nation’s most populous state.

But with a recent Univision News/Latino Decisions poll showing that 65 percent of Latinos nationally will decide their vote based on the issues of jobs and the economy, their “support for the president has dropped significantly,” said Inclan, who also worked for the 2012 gubernatorial campaign of California GOP candidate Steve Poizner.

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