It has become such a repeated mantra in mainstream Republican circles, that it could be nearing cliché status: If the Republican Party is looking to stay politically viable in the future, it must win over Hispanic voters.
But, thus far, it has become a case of easier said than done, considering Latinos have traditionally voted overwhelmingly Democrat. But the GOP need not lose hope, party insiders say — just look to Texas.
A revealing Gallup poll unveiled this month found that in the Lone Star State, more Hispanics identify themselves as Republican than in the country as a whole. Nationwide, Democrats hold a 30 percent advantage among Hispanics over Republicans. But in Texas, that number is just 19 percent.
Part of the reason for that is that Hispanic culture, particularly Mexican-American , has been ingrained in Texas since its founding, with some families stretching back six or seven generations. But Republican strategist Karl Rove – a Texas native – said there is an even more crucial factor that Republicans across the U.S. could take a lesson from the Lone Star State.
“Most important of all is that Republicans in the modern era have felt very comfortable campaigning in the Latino community and the Latino community has responded positively to that message,” Rove told Fox News Latino.
Republican pollster Whit Ayres put it bluntly: “The situation in Texas represents the promise for the Republican Party across the country.”
If the 2012 presidential election results are any indication, the Republican Party has a serious problem that urgently needs addressing. Republican nominee Mitt Romney took only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote – down from John McCain’s 32 percent four years earlier. And even that outcome is way down from the unprecedented support George W. Bush received from Latinos in the 2004 election, when he racked up 44 percent of their votes.
The next Bush generation couldn't agree more that the party's future rests with getting more Hispanics over to the GOP.
“I think we can do a better job,” said George P. Bush – nephew of George W. Bush and son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush. “And what that means is looking back at the case study of my uncle when he won over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote not necessarily because he changed his positions on the issues of the day, but tactically, he engaged the community from day one.”
George P. Bush is currently on the campaign trail in Texas – running for land commissioner, a powerful post in the state from usually seen as a jumping-off point to higher-profile positions.
After a rally at the El Guapo restaurant in Denton,in north Texas, Bush told Fox News Latino how his uncle took Texas campaign sensibilities across the country in successful presidential runs in 2000 and 2004.
“We had a staff, basically of fully bilingual, bicultural surrogate speakers who were traveling throughout the country, engaging the community in key battleground states that had Hispanic communities that were making an impact,” the younger Bush said.
Former President Bush also spoke about immigration with compassion and pragmatism, a stark contrast with the approach and tone used by Romney during his campaign and in debates, which was widely seen as pivotal in his defeat.
Romney said that people who entered the U.S. illegally should return to their home countries. When asked how he would make that happen, Romney now-famously said: “Well, the answer is self-deportation.”
Whatever support Romney might have had up until that moment among Hispanics immediately collapsed.
“The bottom line is that if people don’t think you like them they are not likely to vote for you,” pollster Ayres said.
Without question, immigration is an important issue to Hispanic voters – and for the Republican Party.
“This issue keeps Latinos who otherwise agree with us from hearing us fully,” Karl Rove said.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a party darling seen as a potential future presidential candidates, described immigration as a “gateway issue,” yet not necessarily first and foremost for Latino voters.
“The first thing on their minds is how am I going to get my kids to school, Rubio said in an interview with Fox News Latino. “And then how am I going to get to work and then how am I going to pay my bills and make sure they do their homework and get everything done and put them to bed and get up tomorrow and start all over again.”
And on that front, Rubio said the Republican Party has a lot in common with many Hispanic voters.
“There are many Hispanics that vote for the (GOP) candidate,” he said. “They will vote for whoever speaks most to their needs and their lives beyond just immigration."
But getting in the front door to talk about kitchen table issues is a challenge that will take time and effort. The candidates do appear to want to learn. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky recently traveled to Texas to ask George P. Bush how it’s done.
“My advice to Sen. Rand Paul and others running for office” said Bush, “is a reevaluation, a paradigm shift if you will of the tactics that we engage in as Republicans – and spending time in the community – not only the day before an election, but the day after election.”
Nationwide, the percentage of Hispanics is rising, while the number of non-Hispanic white voters – the traditional Republican base – is declining. According to several analysts Fox News Latino spoke with for this article, any way you crunch the numbers, the survival of "Republican" as a national political brand will rely on whether the Party can build bridges with Latino voters.
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