While much attention was rightly focused on the Romney-Ryan ticket at the 2012 Republican National Convention, significant but perhaps overlooked changes are occurring at the grassroots level: for the first time since the Depression ended GOP national dominance in 1932, Republicans are recruiting and running large numbers of black and Hispanic candidates for state and federal office.
In 2012, more than 60 black and Hispanic Republicans are running for Congress, a new record. These candidates are not “sacrificial lambs” set up to lose in heavily Democratic inner-city districts. A fair amount of them are running in swing or Republican areas and will likely win. When the dust settles after November 6, it is likely that there will be the highest number of black Republicans (at least three) in the House of Representatives since the Civil War/Reconstruction Era and the highest number of Hispanic Republicans in Congress ever (at least five).
For years, since the 1960s, Democrats have courted the minority vote. Now, the Republican Party is getting more in tune with the new demographic realities of the 21st century. The modern Republican Party has made solid progress in reaching out to moderate-to-conservative minority candidates who share their values on a truly colorblind basis. Senator Marco Rubio, Governor Nikki Haley (whose family is from India), Governor Susana Martinez (who has family roots in Mexico), former Secretary of State Condi Rice, and Utah Congressional candidate Mia Love (who also stars in the “And I’m a Mormon” video series) all gave well-received addresses in Tampa.
In 1980, when Reagan defeated Carter handily, the nation was 12% black, 7% Hispanic, 2% Asian/Pacific Islanders, 1% “Other/Mixed Race,” and 77% white, according to the 1980 Census. The 1980 CBS News exit poll showed that the actual voters were even more white and more middle class: 10% black, 2% Hispanic, and 88% white. But both the 2010 Census and 2008 exit poll showed a very different electoral universe. In 2010, the population was 13% black, 16% Hispanic, 5% Asian/Pacific Islanders, 3% “Other/Mixed Race” — and down to just 63% white.
Due to the record minority turnout inspired by President Obama, the 2008 electorate looked a lot more like the people: 13% black, 9% Hispanic, 2% Asian/Pacific Islanders, 3% “Other/Mixed Race” — and down to just 73% white.
This means that the minority share of the electorate has more than doubled in the last generation. Since every Republican presidential nominee after 1945 except Barry Goldwater in 1964 has carried the white vote, the 15-point decline in the white share of the electorate represents a net loss of 10 million votes (!) for the GOP ticket. If Mitt Romney can’t do better with minorities and the black turnout is high again, he’ll need over 60% of the white vote to get a majority, something only Presidents Nixon and Reagan have done since 1945 in their 49-state landslides.
So Rich Bond, a former head of the Republican National Committee, was surely right when he told the Washington Post in 2001: “We’ve taken white guys about as far as that group can go. We are in need of diversity, women, Latino, African-American, Asian.”