News Column

Going After Hispanic Vote

March 20, 2012

Richard Larsen, Deputy Managing Editor

This year's presidential election offers up two very distinct prizes. One goes to the winner of the general election in November -- the presidency. But to secure that prize, the Republican and Democratic parties are actively courting another prize -- the Hispanic voter.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund expects at least 12.2 million Hispanics will cast ballots in November. That's an increase of 25.6 percent from 2008. In their winning bids for the presidency, George W. Bush won more than 40 percent of Hispanic voters in 2004 and Barack Obama won 67 percent of Hispanic voters in 2008.

Both major political parties have been aggressively seeking the Hispanic voter. This month, HispanicBusiness magazine looks at the Republican National Committee's (RNC) efforts.

In January, Bettina Inclan, a communications and political strategist, was named director of the RNC's Hispanic Outreach. She had served as press secretary for Steve Poizner in his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for California governor in 2010. She then worked as deputy director of communications for Rick Scott, who did win the governorship of Florida in 2010. Ms. Inclan also served as executive director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

HispanicBusiness magazine caught up with her to find out how the RNC hopes to woo Hispanics.

"I will be leading our national strategy," she said, "which will include overseeing staff working directly in local communities in various states with large populations."

Many of those states have been designated as swing states, meaning either party's candidate could win there.

Ms. Inclan did say the RNC will use a national strategy to compete for every vote, but "we also are focusing on some key battleground states such as Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and North Carolina.

Florida is a swing state where the Hispanic voter will have a key role in determining which candidate gets the state's 29 electoral votes. In 2008, Mr. Obama won the state, beating Sen. John McCain by 204,277 votes out of more than 8 million ballots cast. A Jan. 23 fact sheet from the Pew Hispanic Center shows that registered Hispanic voters number more than 1.4 million, roughly 13 percent of all registered Florida voters.

Hispanics registered as Democrats have the edge over Hispanics registered as Republicans, 564,513 to 452,619. However, there are 431,131 Hispanic registered voters who have no party affiliation. If the race in Florida becomes as close as the Obama/ McCain contest was, those Hispanic voters with no party affiliation could be the voting bloc that decides the winner.

Thus, getting the Republican message out becomes a priority task.

"We are building our support within the communities at a grass-roots level by engaging voters where they work and live," Ms. Inclan said.

The RNC has crafted its message to Hispanics around two central themes: One, of Mr. Obama's "failed policies, empty rhetoric and broken promises," Ms. Inclan said; the other, of showing that the Republican Party represents the core values of Hispanics -- family and community.

"We will ensure our message of economic security and conservative principles will reach our diverse Hispanic community across this nation," she said.

Besides coordinating with state and local Republican groups on voter registration and turnout efforts, and working with local community leaders to connect with Hispanic voters, Ms. Inclan said, the RNC would press its efforts via digital means.

"We will also be leveraging the power of social media to engage Hispanic youth and a new generation of Latino voters," she said, noting there is a Twitter account, a account and an rnclatinos. com website.

Two key segments that Republicans have targeted are new Hispanic voters and conservative Hispanics.

"The RNC recognizes a unique opportunity to register and help turn out conservative Hispanic voters to the polls," Ms. Inclan said, "because political ideology doesn't always connect with party registration."

But this might be easier said than done. Many observers see the Republican Party struggling uphill in its effort to attract Hispanics' support, especially as the current group of hopefuls for the GOP presidential nomination talks extremely tough about immigrants.

"Tone and rhetoric absolutely matter," Jennifer Sevilla-Korn, executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, a center-right advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., told CNN in late February, "because the use of language that can be perceived as inflammatory turns the Hispanic community off, even if they agree with the candidate on other issues, like how to deal with the economy and fiscal responsibility."

"Turned off" is exactly how the RNC perceives Hispanics—turned off to Mr. Obama. The president's popularity among Hispanics fell 9 percentage points from 2010 to 2011, down from 63 percent to 54 percent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

It is what the Republicans call Hispanic dissatisfaction with Mr. Obama that drives the Republicans' belief they can strengthen their relationship with Hispanic voters.

"No matter their registration, Hispanics will want a candidate who can turn our economy around," Ms. Inclan said.

Job creation is an important issue for Hispanic voters. Fifty percent of Hispanic registered voters ranked jobs as their top concern, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

But translating the dissatisfaction and the concerns of Hispanics into votes for the Republicans will not be easy.

When the Pew Hispanic Center asked which party has more concern for Hispanics, 45 percent of the respondents said the Democratic Party and only 12 percent said the Republican Party. Even among Republican Hispanics, 20 percent said the Democratic Party is the better party for Hispanics. The Pew Hispanic Center also said 67 percent of Hispanic voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party while just 20 percent say the same about the Republican Party.

The Republican Party is not daunted by the statistics that show strong support for the Democratic Party by a majority of Hispanic voters. For the RNC, the Hispanic vote is up for grabs, Ms. Inclan said, because, "come November, they will be looking for a candidate with a serious jobs plan and who is ready to tackle the issues facing our nation, such as the economy."

Source: (c) 2012. All rights reserved.

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