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The Republican Debate: An Opportunity to Win over the Latino Vote

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It is evident that President Obama's reelection campaign is attempting to leverage his GOP opponents' positions on Social Security and immigration. However, the Republican advantage could be rooted in the Latino voters' top areas of concern which are education, jobs and healthcare; not immigration. This makes Tuesday's Republican candidate debate a potential opportunity for the party to share on its position and action plans to earn the trust of America's fastest growing population group: Latinos.

President Obama may be distracting Latino prospective voters with pleas for comprehensive immigration reform, virtual roundtables to address young Latino influencers, or an emphasis on the DREAM Act. However, while all are noble and important matters for the community, will this truly move the needle for Democrats in times of record unemployment and economic downturn? Promises of hope and change must be followed with leadership in action. We are living in an era when polished rhetoric has lost its charm and action-driven plain English strikes a chord with a frustrated voter community...particularly Latinos.

While the Pew Hispanic Center reports that the Democratic Party continues to hold a large advantage in party identification among Latino registered voters, the party's Achilles' heel of economic failure and financial paralysis could turn into the point of differentiation that could earn Republicans the Latino trust and vote. The opportunity is sizable given that six-in-ten (62%) Latino registered voters say they identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, while one-quarter (25%) say the same for the Republican Party- a Democratic advantage of 37 percentage points; according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

In 2008, Hispanics' 2-to-1 support for Barack Obama's presidential bid was credited with making the difference in four crucial swing states: Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. Also, it is estimated that 21.5 million Latino citizen adults will be eligible to vote in November 2012, up from 19.5 million in 2008. 21.5 million Latinos whose #1 issue is the same as it is for the rest of America, the economy.

Tuesday's debate in New Hampshire showcased the Republicans' focus on economic transformation and promises of bold action plans. "The answer is to cut federal spending...and have a balanced budget amendment" said Romney, while Cain brought much attention to his catchy plan, "It starts with throwing out the current tax code... this is why we developed 9-9-9" and a surprisingly quiet Perry boldly highlighted President Obama as the issue "[President Obama] is the biggest deterrent to get this country back on track" said Perry.

Amongst jokes of a pizza-box 9-9-9 plan, and hypothetical push back from Romney, the candidates shared on more commonalities than differences at the core of their discussion. So, how would the GOP candidates address the matters that matter for Latinos? Below are the top 5 common grounds exposed by the Republican debate:

  1. Wide array of Plans... Cain's 9-9-9, Romney's Believe in America 5 bills/ 5 executive orders plan, Perry's yet to be unveiled energy plan that will revive domestic energy and manufacturing
  2. Demand transparency from the Fed and fire Ben S. Bernanke
  3. Balanced Budget Amendment. We are spending 40% more than we take in. Cut back on the spending so we get back to balance
  4. Reclaim American jobs and Claim energy independence
  5. Save Medicare with no Obamacare

Could a "kitchen table" debate on the economy make the difference for Republicans to get closer to Latinos? The opportunity may more important than they even realize. With close to 3 million Hispanic owned businesses and 62% of all Latinos being U.S. born, the issues that matter most may be working to the party's benefit given the economic circumstances and overall frustration with the current administration.

So often, political candidates miss the mark when speaking to Hispanic voters, focusing the conversation on issues that, while important in the big picture (like immigration reform), miss the mark on what matters most with this increasingly growing voter base - the economy. Now more than ever the Latino vote is up for grabs in 2012, and it's up to the parties to focus on reaching out with the proper relevancy and respect the community deserves. The Republican debate very well could have won the future GOP candidate an influential number of Latino votes... Only time will tell how the telenovela plays out...but one thing is for sure: The drama continues, and Americans are watching.

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Lili Gil is an award-winning business and Hispanic market expert, media/ TV contributor and host of the online show Moments2CulturRise. She is also co-founder and managing partner of XL Alliance a cross-channel marketing strategy organization dedicated to helping business executives maximize their efforts into profitable growth. Gil was recently selected by the World Economic Forum as one of only 190 Young Global Leaders identified across 65 countries for her leadership, community and business impact.