by Bob Quasius – Former president George Bush ‘gets’ Latinos, and Republican leaders would do well to study George Bush’s play book.
George Bush won 49% of Latinos in his last race for governor, and 44% in the 2004 reelection. George Bush learned from “the big gipper”, Ronald Reagan, who also did well among Latino voters.
Chris Christie used the same playbook, winning 51% of the Latino vote in NJ, even though his opponent had a Latina running mate. Chris Christie won just 32% of the Latino vote four years ago!
This “Viva Bush” campaign ad, targeted at Latino voters is positive, and ‘talks to the heart.’ Most Latinos are either immigrants themselves, or 1-2 generations removed, and cultural influences affect how Latinos respond to advertising.
Warm and positive tone is well received, while facts, figures. charts, negativity are not. This “Viva Bush” ad resonated among Latino voters. Anything perceived as an attack on any part of the Hispanic community is very negatively received.
Although jobs and economy are important to Hispanics as with everyone else, a candidate’s tone on immigration is extremely important, because a large majority of Hispanics are immigrants themselves or 1-2 generations removed. Moreover, a large majority of Latino voters also know someone, often a friend or family member, who is here unlawfully and doesn’t fit any of the common negative stereotypes.
Two quotes from Marco Rubio best summarize the importance of immigration tone and stance:
“tone matters”; and
“It’s really hard to get people to listen to you on economic growth, on tax rates, on health care, if they think you want to deport their grandmother. It’s very difficult to get people to listen to anything else you’re saying.”
Ken Cuccinelli didn’t intend to offend Hispanics and Asians, but candidates must chose their words carefully. Though his words in a radio interview were taken out of context, he gave Democrats a huge opening to define him as anti-immigrant, and they did. Latino Democrats even staged a protest using live rats at Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign offices for dramatic effect! Stupid is letting your opposition define you and in politics, perception becomes electoral reality.
Like Ken Cuccinelli, Mitt Romney fell victim to his tone about “self-deportation.” Weak Hispanic engagement in recent years and a meager Spanish language ad budget helped Democrats define Mitt Romney as anti-immigrant – which he isn’t – with many Latino voters.
Obama outspent Romney on Spanish language advertising by more than 12:1. Shrill tone and weak engagement empowers Democrats to define Republicans as something we’re not. Respectful tone and continuous engagement long before elections undermine attempts by Democrats to redefine Republicans as anti-immigrant and anti-Latino.
Obama’s forced deportations at record levels are far worse than “self-deportation”, but again, “tone matters.” Obama gives lip service to immigration reform, speaks warmly about immigrants, and tells us he only deports “gang bangers”, a bald-faced lie.
Meanwhile Obama blames Republicans for the failures to enact immigration reform passed, and behind the scenes Obama sabotages immigration reform so he can continue to demagogue Republicans with Latinos. The immigration issue is more valuable to Obama than the solution, and thus he has shown no real leadership on immigration reform. Obama used the same playbook as a U.S. Senator, sabotaging George Bush’s immigration reforms with poison pill amendments.
The “Viva Bush” campaign effort was coordinated by Jennifer Korn, who was hired earlier this year as Deputy Political Director and National Director for Hispanic Initiatives for the Republican National Committee. In a recent op-ed, Jennifer Korn explained her new RNC role:
“The Viva Bush campaign was successful at securing 44 percent of the Hispanic vote because our team engaged with the Hispanic community and listened to them — a year-and-a-half before Election Day. It didn’t stop once the campaign was over; President Bush and his team constantly engaged the community throughout his presidency.
We also went to where the voters were–including voters who had been typically ignored. The best example is New Mexico, which President Bush lost in 2000 but won in 2004. By working neighborhood by neighborhood, precinct by precinct, we won by just under 6,000 votes. We didn’t give up any area to the opposition, and I remember people were shocked when we opened an office and campaigned in places like Santa Fe.”
I cannot help but feel very optimistic that finally, with experienced Hispanic engagement leadership on-board at RNC, the Republican Party is turning around a stormy relationship with Hispanic voters, which had been on ‘life support’ in recent years.
Chris Christie just proved once again that Hispanics will vote for Republicans who are respectful in tone and engage with Latinos long before campaign season, and Ken Cuccinelli just proved once again that shrill immigration rhetoric and positions only serve to drive conservative and moderate Hispanics into the arms of the Democratic Party.
As Artemio “Temo” Muniz observed after the recent 2013 elections, the Hispanic Community rejected the Ken Cuccinelli GOP brand, embraced the Chris Christie GOP Brand. I heartily agree! Let’s hope other GOP candidates take notice and take pages from the George Bush and Chris Christie playbooks for winning the Hispanic vote!
The future of the Republican Party hinges upon expanding beyond our traditional base, which is shrinking while demographic groups where we’ve not made much effort in recent years is growing rapidly. There are many reasons for optimism. Let’s keep the momentum!
Bob Quasius is the founder and president of Cafe Con Leche Republicans.