Republicans are looking at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's success with Hispanics as a sign that the party can win back a growing voting bloc that has turned away from them in recent elections.
Christie won 51% of the Hispanic vote Tuesday on his way to cruising to a second term, according to a survey of voters as they left their polling places. That was a 19-point increase from his showing in 2009.
"Conservative Republicans can get a significant share of the Hispanic vote provided they reach out aggressively and campaign in Hispanic communities," said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster.
Christie has long sought Hispanic support and spent more than $1 million on a Spanish-language ad campaign in this race. His victory comes as the GOP undergoes an effort to reshape its political approach after Mitt Romney's loss to President Obama in the 2012 election. Romney won 27% of the Hispanic vote last year, the lowest showing for a Republican presidential candidate in a two-person race since the 1970s.
The Republican National Committee hopes to build on its outreach in New Jersey, where staffers were dedicated to Hispanic outreach and bilingual voter contact to find new Republican voters. Izzy Santa of the RNC says 16 paid staffers have been deployed in eight states -- including California, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania -- and are building coalitions with other organizations to make inroads with Hispanics.
Democrats say Christie's victory and strong showing with Hispanics is an "anomaly," driven by the "force of his personality" and popularity with New Jersey voters for the work he's done to rebuild the state after Superstorm Sandy.
"I don't think that is transferable to other candidates nor is it sustainable," said Mo Elleithee, communications director of the Democratic National Committee.
Democrats point to the Virginia governor's race as an example that the GOP rebranding effort isn't working. In that more competitive race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe won 66% of Hispanic voters, compared with 29% for Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Those figures are based on a pre-election survey by Latino Decisions, which conducts polls and studies on Hispanic voters.
Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, both potential 2016 presidential candidates, are held up as examples of Republican politicians who appeal to Hispanics.
"If Republicans are identified as an anti-Hispanic party, and not just an anti-immigrant party, that will hurt them for decades," said Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions and a University of Washington political scientist.
Contributing: Martha T. Moore
Rich Schultz, AP
Copyright 2013 USA TODAY
Original headline: Christie's Hispanic success tests GOP
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