Democrats have been known to be friendly with the Latino community, so much so that in states where "immigration" is a contentious issue, like Arizona, President Obama has already launched a campaign in an attempt to win the 11 electorate votes this battleground has to offer in 2012. Unfortunately harsh Republican-led laws in Arizona and Alabama have stained the party's reputation with America's fastest growing electorate base. There is no question this sentiment will leave the winning GOP nominee with an uphill reputation-battle to win over Latinos.
In a recent article The New York Times reported that the Obama campaign, which is counting on Hispanic voters to help carry friendlier territory like Colorado and Nevada, has opened offices in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff in a play for Arizona, and it has helped recruit a Hispanic candidate for Senate. Activists are already mobilizing to generate turnout by emphasizing the president's efforts on behalf of Hispanics, in contrast to the anti-immigration efforts of state Republicans.
Over the past decade, and according to the U.S. Census, Latinos have contributed to more than half of the country's population growth. States like California, Florida, Nevada and Texas are undertaking a redrawing of their electoral districts. Texas, a state crucial for Republicans, is today majority-minority, which calls for a renewed strategy to win. Texas obtained two additional seats in Congress - where Latinos contributed to 65 percent of the state's population growth - and Florida obtained two additional seats due to the increase in Latino population. At least one in every five voters in 2012 will be Latino in California, New Mexico and Texas, according to National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund projections. So, where am I going with all these numbers and stats? To the reality that both Democrats and Republicans cannot afford to miss if they want to win with a new base, resonate with the fastest growing segment in the U.S. and make a dent in the states that matter most. Latino Decisions reports an estimated 21.5 million Latinos eligible to vote in November 2012, up from 19.5 million in 2008. Only 65% of eligible Latino voters registered in 2008. This is why organizations like The Tequila Party, Voto Latino, among others are campaigning for Latinos to exercise their full power in 2012.
There is a need for a renewed-localized strategy to win. Now more than ever candidates must acknowledgement the Latino concerns around education, the economy, Mexican-American relations and "the obvious" DREAMAct and immigration frustration; which unfortunately tend to get used as a stereotypical punching bag or Latino "carrot".
I had a personalized opportunity to get the answer from the source, when I asked the question to leading GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich at a town hall meeting in Staten Island on December 3rd.
"I asked: Mr. Gingrich: What is your strategy to reach the fastest growing electorate base: Latinos? Particularly in key states like Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada?"
This is what he said:
We've had an office in Miami for years, and we've developed a website called the Americano. We have reached out to a group of FL Hispanic leaders and elected officials that are willing to endorse me in the near future.
My basic approach is:
1. 1st of all the economy, because the fact is the Latino community is very hard working cares a lot about being able to raise their family... and the economy matter a lot because...they have a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the country.
2. Visa reform. The current US visa is a disgrace. The waiting time in Brazil is around 174 days just to get a visa, it just kills our tourism.
3. Find an effective solution with immigration.
4. Have someone who understands the importance of Latin America. Why is it that we are worried about Egypt, we are worried about Syria, and we are worried about Libya... how about Venezuela, how about Cuba and how about Nicaragua? There are lots of good things to worry about pretty darn close to home.
And how about helping the Mexican government and making sure that our largest neighbor in population doesn't literally become an ungovernable state. I helped launch Plan Colombia, which turned out to succeed, despite the opposition of many American liberals. And I think it is very important to look at a similar program...as it relates to dealing with Mexico, again with the Mexican government's approach. We cannot do things in Mexico that they don't approve of.
The answers were well-rounded, yet did not elaborate on specific plans to rebuild the party's reputation in key states like Arizona- where one in three is Latino. Also, while a focus on Florida is critical and a relationship with Cuban-Americans important, let's not forget that 60%+ of Latinos in the U.S. are of Mexican descent.
In summary, whether Mr. Gingrich becomes the nominee or not, it is fundamental for presidential hopefuls to implement a localized strategy to properly educate, engage and gain buy-in from Latinos in the places that matter. You may choose to let stereotypes of illegal status and lack of education cloud the importance of this audience, or dust the fresh 2010 Census results and a few Pew Research reports to discover the new face of America's electorate for 2012.
Lili Gil is an award-winning business and Hispanic market expert, business, politics and news media contributor and creator of the online show and channel Moments2CulturRise. She is also co-founder and managing partner of XL Alliance a multicultural strategy and marketing firm dedicated to helping business executives and leaders navigate and enter emerging markets. 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.