Can GOP Ever Win Latino Vote?

Martin Frost, Politico, February 5, 2012

Now that the Florida primary is well behind, it is important to take a longer look at the battle for the Latino vote in the general election. This growing voting bloc could be the deciding factor if the results prove as close as expected.

This is particularly true in five swing states—Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona. President Barack Obama carried the first four of these in 2008 and is planning a strong push in Arizona this time.

Responding to the GOP base, the Republican Party and its leading presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, may be unable to embrace comprehensive immigration reform and reject harsh right-wing, anti-immigrant rhetoric. So it’s difficult for Romney to make significant headway among this important part of the U.S. electorate. It may well tilt the playing field to Obama—who won two-thirds of the Latino vote in 2008.


Here are several lessons going forward.

First, though Romney captured the Cuban vote in the Florida primary, this doesn’t mean the GOP can win Latino votes this fall. Unlike other Latino voters, Cuban-Americans are reliably Republican.

The vast majority of Latinos in other states, however, are not from Cuba. Many are from Mexico, as well as Central America and Puerto Rico. {snip}

Second, assuming Romney is the Republican nominee, he has a lot of ground to make up with Latinos after being pushed far to the right on the immigration issue during the early primaries and caucuses.

Many Latinos are culturally conservative, patriotic and remarkably entrepreneurial. On paper, this sounds like fertile territory for the GOP. But once Latinos have heard the GOP’s strong anti-immigrant rhetoric, they may well stop listening to anything else Republicans have to say.


Romney, for one, late in the Florida primary took a baby step [toward improving Hispanic relations] on the subject of the DREAM Act. He said he would consider a path to citizenship for young Latino illegal immigrants now living in the U.S., who agree to serve in our military. He will probably have to move even further on this issue to win real support.

Romney will have to move off his hard-line position on immigration reform if he is to make a credible pitch to Latino voters. Building a fence and deporting 11 million people through “self-deportation” is not the answer. He may be considering moving toward Gingrich’s original position on earned legalization. {snip}

The GOP must continue to showcase high-profile Republican officeholders, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. However, putting people like Rubio on television as a spokesman won’t be enough if the party forces them into an ideological straitjacket on immigration reform.


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