The top Hispanic affairs adviser for the Democratic National Committee argued
Thursday evolving demographics in Kansas will inspire an overhaul of political
thinking about elections across the state.
Juan Sepulveda, who was raised in the Oakland neighborhood in Topeka, said operatives in Democratic and Republican parties recognized expansion in the Hispanic population provided a rare opportunity to broaden electoral bases.
He said cultivating these potential game-changing voters -- a principle demonstrated in the 2012 presidential campaign of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney -- required deep reservoirs of commitment, time and money.
Parachuting into communities at the last minute amid wild fanfare doesn't compel people to register and show up at the polls, he said.
"There's no getting around the raw realities of the demographics," Sepulveda said. "What we found at the end was the smartest thing you could do particularly with communities like the Hispanic community -- starting early, having conversations and building relationships."
Emphasizing a model wrapped around community organizing creates alliances useful in local, state or national political campaigns, he said.
Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said the issue of Hispanic voter development in Kansas and elsewhere was a topic of discussion among participants Thursday at a Republican National Committee meeting he attended in Boston.
"It's a segment of voters that voter registration and turnout is lower," Barker said. "It's a place you can expand the base. It's a group both parties are reaching out to."
Sepulveda, who will speak at the state Democratic Party's DemoFest event Saturday in Wichita, secured his first political job at age 16. He landed a position with Jack Brier, a Republican who was Kansas secretary of state.
He went on to Harvard and Stanford before working in Texas during Obama's first successful presidential campaign in 2008. He served in a White House post dedicated to Hispanic relations prior to joining the 2012 re-election campaign.
He said the Obama presidential campaigns were developed along the ideas of "respect, empower and include" -- notions eluding previous presidential campaigners seeking the Hispanic vote in the United States.
"It sounds like some pretty corny stuff, but I had been involved in some presidential campaigns in the past and this was the first one where I had seen people take those things seriously," Sepulveda said.
The Obama organization worked to tap into topics that moved potential Hispanic voters. Differences emerged among urban and rural residents and most strikingly between long-established families and the new set of younger immigrant families, he said.
"I think that's one huge lesson that we learned," he said. "Just respect where the community is, giving them some room to do their own thing and make sure they are a part of the campaign. They all came together because they wanted to be part of something that really felt like the beginning of a movement."
Sepulveda said unifying issues among Hispanics were of an economic nature and featured poverty, immigration, education and health care. Of less concern, he said, were abortion and gay marriage.
Generally, he said, there was no reason to believe Hispanics in Kansas deviate from the national sense of priorities.
"We believe that a lot of the deep work we were able to do in battleground states is perfect for a place like Kansas," he said. "If you work hard and play by the rules, we're going to respect you and make sure you're at the table."
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