03/20/2013 12:48 pm ET

How California Republicans Can Win Over Latinos

With California’s Republican state convention recently behind us, a big GOP mover and shaker took me out for drinks and wanted to know what I thought of their party’s new effort to win over Latinos.

Not much, I said, much to his disappointment. Adding a GOP Latino candidate here and there wasn’t going to amount to much, I told him, so long as they continue to alienate Latinos, who make up more than a fifth of the state’s voters. They had the same dog, just with new spots.

At that rate, Republicans will never succeed in winning major statewide offices in California—no matter how many millions their candidates spend.

What Republicans need, I said, was a new dog. So I laid out this primer on how Republicans can change their fortunes in California and beyond.

To begin romancing the Latino vote, Republicans must first man up, as it were, and be secure of who they are.

They must stop preaching to the choir and stop overusing the C-word. Conservatives are going to vote Republican no matter what and don’t need to be won over with all the C-word mantras that GOP candidates love to use. Park the C-word outside the state borders.

Instead, the California GOP should start an early grass-roots program educating Republicans on how the party will have to expand its ranks in order to win.

Immigration reform

Next, they must disassociate from former Gov. Pete Wilson and from 1994, which was the year Proposition 187 alienated Latinos from Republicans. Retire the former governor. He is too symbolic of the anti-Latino GOP stance of the past.

Along with Wilson, either sincerely embrace immigration reform or put criticism on the back burner. Don’t rant about it. When it’s brought up, turn it to the issue of jobs.

Then, Republicans need to change how they go after the ever-growing Latino vote.

For starters, they can borrow a page from the American Jewish Committee, the global organization that in recent years has been promoting ties to Hispanic evangelicals and for whom the growing presence and increasing political influence of Latino evangelicals is a treasure trove for securing the future of Israel.

Los Angeles County alone is home to more than 5,500 Latino Pentecostal congregations. Nationally, at least eight million Americans identify themselves as Latino evangelicals.

Politically, say experts, Latino evangelicals lean toward the C-word.

“They fell in love with this George Bush, man of God defending the family from the allegedly gay agenda, abortion and the additional hook of the faith-based initiatives,” says Jorge Garcia, professor of Chicano Studies at California State University, Northridge.

And Bush historically did well among Latinos in his campaigns for governor in Texas and in his two presidential campaigns.

President Obama does not understand Mexican-American Latinos

Among Latino evangelicals and non-evangelicals as well, Republicans can also begin hammering Democrats and President Barack Obama with charges of elitism that have worked with non-Latinos.

Many Latinos, especially Mexican-Americans in California and the Southwest, may not even be aware of just how elitist Obama has been in dealing with them, especially on appointments.

The majority of Obama’s Latino appointees have been non-Californians and non-Texans—and many of the important ones have been Ivy Leaguers, like Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, who are Puerto Rican or Cuban and do not share the Southwest Latino experience.

Republicans should hit heavily on the idea that from the start Obama has had no clue about Latinos in America. The 2008 Obama presidential campaign’s leading Latino adviser, Tampa lawyer Frank Sanchez, is Cuban. He also served as the new president’s point person for many of the administration’s Latino appointments.

For starters: Obama’s appointment to the Holy See was Cuban-born. So was Obama’s Harvard-educated ambassador to Mexico, homeland of most of the Latinos in the U.S. Obama’s recent Cabinet appointee, Thomas Perez, is a Brown University and Harvard-educated Hispanic born in Buffalo and not from the Southwest, home of the largest number of civil rights abuses against Latinos.

Republicans need to understand what Obama doesn’t—that Latinos are more factionalized than even Democrats. Mexican-Americans are largely resentful of the success that Puerto Ricans and Cubans have had riding the Latino wave created by their increasing numbers, the largest segment made up of Mexican-Americans.

The GOP should quietly cultivate that animosity to underscore how Obama’s understanding of Latinos extends only to those on the East Coast and those with Ivy League connections.

Republicans do not need the lion’s share of the Latino vote to take California. And they have nothing to lose by trying to do better than what they have done in recent elections.

This article originally appeared on VOXXI under the title "A Primer On How Republicans Can Win California."



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