Politics & Policy

How the GOP Can Attract Hispanics

(John Moore/Getty)
The key is not immigration, but showing that we understand and can help.

If Republican party officials want to know how to attract Hispanic voters, they should look at Bexar County (which contains San Antonio) in South Texas.

Bexar County has a population of 1.8 million people. About 60 percent are Hispanic, 30 percent Anglo, and 10 percent black. So Hispanics outnumber Anglos by a 2:1 margin, yet Republicans consistently win half or more of the countywide offices. Today 26 of 50 offices are held by the GOP. Typically, Republican candidates in Bexar County garner 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. How?

It will surprise the liberal media, Democrats, and others, but candidates do not rely on immigration issues to win Hispanic votes. Making government more responsive, advertising on Spanish media, and fielding women and Hispanics as candidates have proven to be more effective tactics. Usually half of all GOP candidates in Bexar County are women and Hispanics, sending the message that the Republican party reaches out and is inclusive.

One reason Mitt Romney did so poorly among Hispanics is because the Obama campaign outspent him on Spanish media by a 12:1 margin. It’s a wonder Romney won even 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. On the other hand, when George W. Bush ran for president, he outspent John Kerry on Spanish media, garnering as much as 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.

In addition, recent polls show that Hispanic voters across the country care less about immigration than about most other issues. A recent Pew survey showed that Hispanics ranked immigration next to last in issue priority among five subjects. The study also revealed that 54 percent of Hispanic voters do not view immigration reform as a deal breaker when they go to the ballot box. These voters say that they are open to voting for a candidate with whom they agree on other issues, even if that candidate openly opposes an amnesty agenda.

Hispanics care more about job creation, a stronger economy, and educational opportunities. Hispanics have one of the highest school-dropout rates among minority groups. And Republicans have good ideas and solid solutions to address these issues. In addition to education, Republicans have historically had a natural advantage with Hispanic voters when it comes to family values and the right to life.

In efforts to reach Hispanic voters, Republicans would also be wise to remember that Hispanics — like any minority group — are more than a set of poll numbers. Courting Hispanics with promises of amnesty is the Democrats’ toxic tactic of divisive politics; Republicans are better than that. Focusing on issues that unite us, rather than divide us, is a more positive approach. While the politics that divide can be powerful, no amount of pandering can trump local relationships and people who seek to understand, engage, and hear directly from their neighbors.

Bexar County Republicans have shown that they support Hispanic families’ efforts to strive and thrive in the Lone Star State. They understand that their Hispanic friends and neighbors identify first as fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, with many of the same worries and cares American families everywhere face. Many Bexar County Hispanics are Bexar County Republicans.

Republicans should avoid the temptation to believe that amnesty is the answer to winning the hearts of Hispanic voters. It would be better for Republicans to emphasize issues Hispanics care most about, communicate directly with the Hispanic community, and encourage non-traditional candidates. It has worked in Bexar County, and it can work across America.

— Lamar S. Smith represents the 21st district of Texas in the House of Representatives.

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