Republicans will be going puerta a puerta (door to door) to rally Latinos to turn out to vote – for Mitt Romney, specifically – in November, said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Priebus said that Republicans have ammunition in their arsenal this time that they did not have in 2008, when Barack Obama scored nearly 70 percent of Latino voters.
That arsenal includes high-profile Hispanic Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martínez, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. And there’s Priebus’s longtime recipe – rooted in his political coming-of-age in his native Wisconsin – of pivoting campaigns on fundraising and grassroots outreach.
“In Kenosha [Wisconsin] and with Hispanic voters, there are two things I’ve wanted candidates to do – raise money and knock on doors,” Priebus said in an interview with Fox News Latiino. “I know people may find it annoying, but I don’t believe there’s any better way than going door to door.”
“We’ve got better messengers today,” Priebus said, mentioning Rubio, Martínez and Sandoval, “and we have a message in 2012 that is more effective for us than it was in 2008.”
And that message, he said, will focus primarily on the economy – which, the GOP is telling Latinos, will improve only with a change in the White House.
“We’re also hiring volunteers to help us with so that we can get into Hispanic communities and churches in areas around the country,” Priebus said. “The message we’re communicating to Latino voters is, and it doesn’t matter if you’re Greek or Hispanic, people need better jobs, more money and more opportunities.”
In Kenosha [Wisconsin] and with Hispanic voters, there are two things I’ve wanted candidates to do – raise money and knock on doors.
- Reince Priebus, chairman, Republican National Committee
Hispanics are now the nation’s largest minority – 21 million of the ethnic community’s population of 50 million are registered voters. Roughly half of those registered voters are expected to turn out in November.
Door-to-door outreach campaigns in local Arizona elections last year brought out enough first-time Latino voters to score upset victories.
Thousands of new Hispanic voters there helped firefighter Daniel Valenzuela become the first Latino to represent an overwhelmingly Latino district on the Phoenix City Council. They also helped Greg Stanton, a Democrat, beat Wes Gullett, a Republican, in the race for mayor of Phoenix.
Valenzuela was quoted in The New York Times saying he spent about a year “knocking on the doors of people whose doors had never been knocked on before” in largely Latino neighborhoods.
“This was a campaign for social behavioral change,” The Times quoted Valenzuela as saying.
The challenge to changing hearts and minds among Latino voters is formidable for Priebus, who in Wisconsin worked doggedly to build a rapport between the Republican establishment and local Tea Party groups.
“I’m part of the grassroots movement,” a Politico.com profile of him quoted him as telling reporters in Wisconsin years ago. “One of the things I’ve said is our party is part of the conservative movement in this country. We’re not in competition with it.”
It is a chord that the one-time lawyer -- whose mother recalled in the Politico.com story how even as a boy Priebus enjoyed going from house to house putting political signs on lawns – may want to strike again as the RNC reaches out to Latinos.
Latinos traditionally have leaned toward voting for Democrats, who long have courted them more aggressively than have Republicans.
In several polls, including one by Fox News Latino earlier this year, likely Hispanic voters said that while they may not be thrilled with Obama’s performance, they prefer him overwhelmingly over Romney and the other GOP candidates who were vying for the Republican nomination.
Many Republicans, including Rubio, have said that the GOP must get Latinos to see the party as the best fit for them, given the conservative views on a host of issues that many Latinos hold.
The GOP will need to look at “how are we doing in the fundamentals of communicating with voters and having those voters feel connected to Mitt Romney,” Priebus said. “How are we doing at turning out the vote in those communities?”
Republicans will be facing a leery Latino electorate after the hard line on immigration and English as the official language that many of the candidates vying to be the party’s presidential nominee took during the primaries.
Romney in particular came under fire from some Latino leaders and immigration advocates for taking the most hard-line positions of all the candidates in GOP debates and in campaign speeches. He has said he firmly opposes any measure or policy change that gives a break to undocumented immigrants.
Romney said he opposes the DREAM Act, a proposed measure that would allow undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children the chance to legalize their status if they attend college or serve in the military, among other things. He vowed that if the measure ever became law, as president he would veto it.
The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Commitee, though, plan to continue reminding Latinos about the tough rhetoric about immigration during the GOP primaries.
“The RNC and the Romney campaign are trying to play catch-up in their outreach to Hispanic voters but it won’t matter,” said DNC Press Secretary Melanie Roussell. “Hispanics have heard Mitt Romney loud and clear and know that he is one of the most extreme candidates in history on policies important to Hispanic voters, such as immigration reform and economic security for middle class Americans.”
Lately, Romney seems to be trying to soften his stance on immigration-related issues, saying, for instance, that the Latino vote is crucial to a November victory, and that he would consider Rubio’s as-yet-unreleased conservative version of the DREAM Act once its details are finalized.
Priebus says that many in the public have a skewed image of Romney, and of Republicans. He puts much of the blame on mainstream media.
“The mainstream media has some sort of love affair with portraying the Obama campaign with being so nimble with Hispanics in this country,” said Priebus, who whose years at the University of Miami Law School overlapped with those of Rubio. “The fact is that in almost every category Hispanic voters are worse off with Barack Obama as president.”
In opinion pieces in publications and press releases, the RNC is pushing the message that Hispanics have been one of the hardest hit communities in the ailing economy, which the party blames on Obama’s policies.
That is the message that the RNC wants to take to Hispanics’ doorsteps, Priebus said. Recently the RNC announced that it was setting up Hispanic outreach staffs in six key states: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia. RNC officials called the Latino campaign unprecedented for the Republican Party in scale and intensity.
“I’d like Latino voters to lead the charge” in making “Barack Obama a one-term president.”
The Obama election campaign says that Latinos have gained 1.2 million jobs under his administration. Obama campaign officials say the GOP blocks the president’s efforts to establish things that would benefit Latinos such as reforms of healthcare and immigration.
The GOP's rebuttal -- made recently in an op-ed by Priebus -- is that Obama's healthcare reform will put a burden on the many Latino small business owners, and that Obama did not put muscle behind his talk about immigration reform.
While the GOP primaries dragged on, the Obama campaign hit the Latino neighborhoods in its outreach effort in potential swing states such as Florida and Nevada, among other places.
Roussell, the DNC spokeswoman, said: “Hispanics know that Mitt Romney’s economic policies - budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy and fewer rules for Wall Street- amount to a familiar formula that benefitted a few, crashed our economy and punished the middle class, especially Hispanic families.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.