It is difficult to see how any of the top tier candidates seeking the Republican nomination would appeal to Latinos without a massive effort undertaken on their behalf. In fact, polling conducted for Univision, the largest and most influential news outlet among Hispanics, reported President Obama experiencing a huge lead among Latino voters.
As reported, “Among registered Latino voters in the 21 most Latino-heavy states, Obama’s advantage is far greater, exceeding two-to-one margins in every case. The president is up 65 percent to 22 percent on Cain, 67 percent to 24 percent on Romney and 68 percent to 21 percent on Perry. That will come as welcome news to the White House as the president prepares for what is shaping up to be a difficult re-election campaign.”
Yes, welcome, but not surprising to the White House or anyone who has been paying attention for the last decade. The last Republican to put forward a meaningful and well-executed effort to engage Hispanics was President George W. Bush and he was rewarded with 44% of the vote in a victorious re-election that included winning Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.
The GOP nominee will need to compete in all of these states in 2012 and will be running from behind in most. Absent his home state of Arizona, Senator John McCain lost every one of these states in 2008, most by substantial margins. It should be a warning sign that the namesake of the McCain/Kennedy immigration reform proposal was defeated among Latinos by more than 35 points.
In comparison, Bush carried New Mexico by fewer than 10,000 votes, yet McCain was crushed by Obama by 15 points. Today, the state has a Republican governor who is the nation’s first elected Latina chief executive providing even more proof the GOP can compete for Hispanic votes, if it shows up with a compelling narrative.
Since Bush was re-elected, Republicans have been completely absent when it comes to communicating their ideas and fighting for Hispanic votes. While it may seem complex to some, winning over Latinos starts with being on the playing field and engaging in a conversation. Any Republican presidential candidate who thinks they can turn on the relationship by flipping a switch is sorely mistaken.
The debate thus far in the primary campaign has not benefited Republicans. With the intense focus on immigration and the overly restrictive view communicated by the presidential candidates, a massive hole has already been dug and it’s not as if President Obama’s campaign is unaware.
According a recent report in the Huffington Post, “In an interview with Latino reporters at the White House … Obama said the Republican debates have given his campaign all the material they need to convince Latino voters that they should support him. “We may just run clips of the Republican debates verbatim,” Obama said, according to Univision. “We won’t even comment on them, we’ll just run those in a loop on Univision and Telemundo, and people can make up their own minds.’”
The key takeaway isn’t that immigration will be a defining issue in the election; it is that a conversation between two sides begins with respect and recognition that both have something valuable to offer. While Republican candidates may feel like that is a given, it may be the Hispanic voter who sits on the other side of the table may not agree. This chasm, which has expanded due to the ineffectiveness of the party and candidates actively to reach out to Hispanics, will leave little time next year for the presidential campaign to make up the difference. There is a real chance by next winter the GOP nominee will ask, why didn’t we do more?
Javier Ortiz is a Republican strategist.