Latinos will be 10 percent of the national electorate in the 2012 elections. In several key states like Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico they will be 12 to 20 percent of all voters.
Republicans know they need a good showing with Latino voters - at least 40 percent - to win back the White House in 2012. And, while the GOP did better than expected with Latino voters in the midterms - in House races, Republican candidates received 38 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to 29 percent in '08 - Republicans still have substantial work to do to attract enough Hispanic votes to be victorious in two years.
As a Latino, and based on my experience working with the Hispanic community, I‘d like to propose five ways the GOP can win over Latino voters:
1. Talk to Latinos. It sounds pretty simple, but the truth is right now Republicans don't communicate enough with Hispanics. If you want someone to vote for you, you need to talk to them constantly and explain why your ideas are better for them and the country than those of the opposition. It's not enough to have a "Hispanic outreach" officer that talks to Spanish language media from time to time. Republican leaders themselves have to talk and meet directly, frankly and frequently with the Latino community.
2. Defend life and the family. Talking is important, but talk alone is not enough. You need to have a message that appeals to the core values and aspirations of Latinos. The good news is that Latinos are inherently conservative. They are people of faith and family. The majority of them, in fact, believe in the right to life and traditional marriage. To garner increased Latino support the GOP must continue to advance and defend the social conservative agenda.
3. Show Latinos you are pro-business and against intrusive government. Latinos are extremely entrepreneurial. They are opening business three times faster than the national average. And, contrary to what many think, they don't like big government. They've experienced in their home countries the limitations and failures of excessive government involvement in society and the economy. In their outreach to Latinos, Republicans should highlight their record of supporting small and family owned business and their belief in limited government. They should explain to them how the Democrats’ big government agenda will impose heavy burdens on business owners and entrepreneurs and limit their freedoms and opportunities through increased taxation and over-regulation.
4. Challenge the Democrats' pandering to Latinos. Democrats treat Hispanics in a very condescending way, continuously trying to make them feel like victims of the system and telling them that the only way they can get ahead is through government entitlements. Latinos today, however, come here because they aspire to achieve the American Dream. They recognize they are a demographic minority, but they don't have “a minority mentality.” They resent being portrayed as a "special group," separate from the rest of society. Accordingly, Republicans should treat them as part of the great American family and propose policies that encourage their hard work and their pursuit of a better life for themselves and their families.
5. Deal constructively with immigration. Immigration is not the only issue Latinos care about, but it's certainly one the most important to them. While they fully support strengthening border security and domestic enforcement, like the majority of Americans they want to see Washington fix our dysfunctional immigration system so that the foreign workers our economy needs can enter legally. An essential first step to achieving this goal is rejecting the ugly rhetoric that some GOP leaders like Tom Tancredo and Sharon Angle have used against immigrants. Republicans have to make clear that these outspoken individuals represent a minority fringe within the party. Most importantly, though, the GOP needs to go back to their free market principles and publicly and forcefully propose solutions that go beyond enforcement -- only measures such as a temporary worker program. If Republicans choose not to lead constructively on this issue, there's no way they will get the Latino votes they need to win the White House.
The GOP has valid reasons for optimism. Latinos have voted for Republicans before. They shouldn't forget that President Bush won re-election in '04 with 44 percent of the Latino vote. If Republicans develop a coherent strategy to engage Latino voters and stick to it, they have real reason to believe they will enjoy this type of support from Latinos again, and may well do better with them in 2012 and beyond.
Alfonso Aguilar is the Executive Director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and former Chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship during the George W. Bush administration.