While Republicans are still licking their wounds from the November defeat, they continue to discuss, blog, twitter, and text what it will take to win back seats and the majority in Congress. Part of the problem in 2008 was Republicans’ difficulty in winning over minority voters who are a bigger and bigger share of the electorate. In particular, the GOP lost ground with Hispanics in 2008. This contributed to Republican losses in Congress and the Senate and to Senator McCain’s disappointing results with non-white voters (receiving only 31 percent of the Hispanic vote).
Newly elected Republican Chairman Michael Steele says he has a vision to address this problem. He wants Republicans to highlight and promote the entrepreneurial spirit — the same spirit instilled in Hispanics that drives them to create small businesses. He also wants to focus on Republicans’ education and school choice agenda, which he contends will appeal to voters of all backgrounds, including Hispanics who view education as the avenue to success in America.
On February 19, the Hispanic Leadership Fund and Republican National Hispanic Assembly held a forum in Washington, D.C., entitled, “The Future of Hispanics in the GOP.” One of the panels included former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and a brief appearance by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Most of the forum was a bleak numbers recitation revealing how poorly Republicans have fared with Hispanics in the last two election cycles. The numbers don’t lie; Hispanic voters overwhelmingly went with Barack Obama in November.
It is surprising to some extent that McCain — a senator from a border state with a rising population of Hispanic voters who historically had supported him — did so poorly with that constituency. Everyone knows how controversial immigration policy can be and Senator McCain, perhaps not surprisingly, backed away from the issue. As a result, voters were left with the impression that the Republican Party was opposed to immigration.
But Hispanic outreach by Republicans has been problematic for some time now. For years, I have been following political events catering to Hispanics on both sides of the aisle. You have your mariachi band, margarita machine (virgin, of course), and chips and salsa. Is that what we are to you? My mother who immigrated to the United States from Mexico loves mariachi music, but I despise it.
Most first and second generation Americans honor the culture and heritage of their parents’ native homeland, but that does not mean I have to behave as if I am from another country. So playing “La Bamba” in the background of a political rally means you understand us? Even I don’t understand all of us. Hispanics or Latinos come from over 20 countries in Central and South America, not to mention our neighbor Mexico.