No, the GOP Is Not About to Capture Latino Voters

Obamacare and abortion platforms will not make them forget about immigration.

Protestors demonstrate calling for immigration reform in front of the Illinois GOP headquarters on June 27, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.
National Journal
Marin Cogan
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Marin Cogan
Nov. 13, 2013, 12:51 a.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans who have warned for years that their party needs to do a bet­ter job reach­ing out to His­pan­ic voters are find­ing a lot to smile about this month: ac­cord­ing to the latest Gal­lup poll, Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing among His­pan­ics is at 50 per­cent, eight points lower than it was in late Oc­to­ber, after the gov­ern­ment shut­down. A re­cent poll of His­pan­ic voters in Col­or­ado show­ing a mod­est de­cline in opin­ion on the Af­ford­able Care Act has Re­pub­lic­ans hop­ing they can ex­ploit Health­care.gov’s botched rol­lout to their ad­vant­age with His­pan­ic mil­len­ni­als. In Texas, con­ser­vat­ives are try­ing to reach Latino voters with an ap­peal rooted in the party’s anti-abor­tion stance. Chris Christie’s strong show­ing in his reelec­tion cam­paign last week is re­mind­ing them that Latino voters can be won.

Re­pub­lic­ans shouldn’t get their hopes up. Christie won 51 per­cent of His­pan­ic voters in a cam­paign where he was already out­per­form­ing his Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent among al­most every demo­graph­ic, even win­ning 32 per­cent of Demo­crats. It wasn’t for noth­ing: Christie spent over a mil­lion dol­lars on TV ads, in­ves­ted in Span­ish-lan­guage ra­dio and dir­ect mail, and softened his stance on al­low­ing in-state tu­ition for chil­dren of un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants just be­fore the elec­tion. Last month, the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee an­nounced they, too, would be build­ing out­reach teams in 18 states that could help warm voters to a can­did­ate like Christie in 2016.

The only prob­lem is that Christie would first have to get past a primary. And con­ser­vat­ives have already de­clared his cent­rism on some of the same is­sues that would ap­peal to His­pan­ic voters to be in­tol­er­able.

That gets to an­oth­er hurdle Re­pub­lic­ans face in try­ing to reach His­pan­ic voters in 2016—there will be no way to si­lence GOP voices that com­pletely op­pose the stances the party must take in or­der to draw in His­pan­ic voters. Eighty per­cent of His­pan­ic voters say un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants should be able to stay in the coun­try if they haven’t broken any laws, but that won’t de­ter pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Ted Cruz from de­cry­ing am­nesty for il­leg­al ali­ens, and his Tea Party fans from loudly agree­ing. The same is true for health care. In Septem­ber, 61 per­cent of His­pan­ic voters sup­por­ted the Af­ford­able Care Act. The most re­cent polling, which shows a minor de­cline in His­pan­ic voter per­cep­tion of the law, sampled only 300 voters in Col­or­ado. And Re­pub­lic­ans haven’t offered a bet­ter op­tion for the 10 mil­lion un­in­sured His­pan­ics who might be­ne­fit from the law.

“They don’t gain any­thing from point­ing out that a web­site doesn’t work,” says Sylvia Man­zano, a seni­or ana­lyst at Latino De­cisions. “That’s not a policy ad­vant­age for them.”

In Texas, Re­pub­lic­ans are hop­ing they can reach out to His­pan­ic voters by fo­cus­ing on the party’s anti-abor­tion stance. But polling from Latino De­cisions shows 38 per­cent of voters are pro-choice. And more than half say their re­li­gion does not in­flu­ence their vote. Sev­enty-five per­cent say polit­ics is about eco­nom­ic is­sues. Both demo­graph­ics most af­fected by abor­tion policy—young un­in­sured people and wo­men—are more likely to sup­port Demo­crats.

“I’m deeply skep­tic­al that a simple fo­cus on di­vis­ive abor­tion polit­ics will gain Latino and Lat­ina voters. First of all, an out­dated ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ ap­proach is far too lim­ited to con­vey the real opin­ions of our com­munity,” says Jes­sica González-Ro­jas, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Lat­ina In­sti­tute for Re­pro­duct­ive Health. “[T]hey’re also deeply con­cerned about wheth­er they’re go­ing to be able to af­ford their yearly mam­mo­gram or wheth­er they will have to choose between birth con­trol or food that month.”

Frank Sharry, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of pro-im­mig­ra­tion re­form group Amer­ica’s Voice, says “Re­pub­lic­ans can be com­pet­it­ive—they just can’t be com­pet­it­ive on the cheap. They’ll say its just a mat­ter of tone but it’s not. It’s a mat­ter of policy, out­reach, re­spect and a mat­ter of show­ing up. Not six months out from an elec­tion, say­ing, ‘Let’s hire maria­chi bands for Lati­nos,’ which is the nor­mal m.o. for most Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates. That will not pass the laugh test.”

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