Why Republicans Failed
For Hispanic Republican leaders and campaign advisers, three main factors injured the Republicans in their goal of gaining Hispanic votes -- inadequate outreach, a damaged Republican brand, and the extremely negative economic climate. One factor that was not a problem, they said, was Sen. John McCain himself, the party's standard bearer.
Danny Vargas, chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, said, "I still think we had a fantastic candidate in John McCain." He added that McCain has "always been a friend to the Hispanic community. He was a leader in some of the issues we cared about."
Hector Barajas, communication director for the California Republican Party, concurred.
"In this particular election we had a great advocate for the Latino community in Sen. John McCain," he said.
Lionel Sosa, a long-standing adviser to many Republican presidential campaigns, dating back to the 1980s and President Ronald Reagan, emphasized what he called the "damaged Republican brand." He noted that discontent with the war and very low approval ratings for President Bush combined with Hispanic dismay over the tone of the debate in the Republican primaries over immigration policy drove Hispanics from the party.
Over and over again, Republican Hispanic leaders emphasized the negative impact of Republican rhetoric around immigration issues. Nonpartisan surveys too revealed that Hispanic voters were overwhelming concerned about the issue of immigration. Bendixen and Associates, a Miami-based marketing research company that often addressee Hispanic issues, polled voters just prior to the national election. Its numbers reveal that 51 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics thought the issue of immigration was "very important," while an additional 40 percent thought it was "somewhat important."
Mr. Barajas agreed. "Immigration is a very important issue for Latinos," he said. "Every Latino, whether you are a U.S. citizen, whether you are the second generation, we all tend to know someone who has gone through the immigration maze."
Sergio Bendixen, head of Bendixen and Associates, summarized the research saying, "the immigration issue was important to all Hispanic groups and united them in the ways they framed this election." In his estimation, immigration was not the whole story, but worked in a dynamic way with other issues to shove Hispanics toward the Democratic Party.
"We feel that [immigration] is the issue that got their attention in this campaign, the issue that got them voting heavily in the primaries. But later on," Mr. Bendixen added, "the economy and health care became extremely important. But immigration played a very important role in getting them to reject the Republican Party and to begin the movement toward the Democratic Party by voting first for Hillary Clinton and then later for Obama in the final vote."
More than any specific policy, however, it was the tone of the immigration debate that offended many Hispanics. Mr. Guerra said that while some Hispanic Republicans supported a so-called "law and order" approach to immigration policy, even they "were turned off by the discourse." They were offended by "the way it Hispanics were being demonized."
Fernand Amandi, executive vice-president at Bendixen and Associates, made an even stronger case for the injuries that the immigration policy has inflicted upon the Republicans. He said, "The Republican Party embraced an almost suicidal posture when it came to the immigration issue. I think will cause long-lasting damage to their brand in the minds of Hispanic voters."
Mr. Armand concluded, "Why the Republican Party conscientiously alienated the fastest-growing segment of the electorate is a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside of an enigma."
To go forward, said Mr. Guerra, the Republican Party is going to have to resolve this issue. "And it needs to be done in a way that does not alienate Hispanics who are here and who are voting." The party must do this to protect its political future.
"Because if they don't turn that sentiment around," he said, "they will continue to get this kind of low margin in the vote."
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