Republicans made historic gains across the country on Tuesday, including significant progress with minority voters. Republican Tim Scott became the first elected black senator from the South. Mia Love became the first Republican woman of African-American descent to be elected to the House, and the GOP Hispanic Caucus gained new members from West Virginia and Florida. But marquee names aside, the effort Republicans made has to be intensified if they are to become more competitive in higher-turnout presidential-election years.
One of Mitt Romney’s great failures in 2012 was that he won only 29 percent of Latino voters and a pathetic 27 percent among Asian voters — considerably down from the support George W. Bush had won from these groups in 2000 and 2004. This year, the GOP’s share of votes from these Americans improved. In the national exit poll for local House races, Democrats won 64 percent of Latino voters and also won Asian voters — but only with 52 percent. Among African Americans, Republican support ticked up slightly from Romney’s 6 percent of the vote to 10 percent. Native Americans, who make up 1 percent of the national electorate, favored Republicans by 52 to 43 percent.
Part of the Republican improvement can be traced to lower voter turnout, because younger Latinos and Asians simply don’t show up as much in non-presidential years. But black voter participation this year actually went up from the last midterm election, rising to 12 percent of the electorate, compared with 11 percent in 2010. The new GOP strength among non-black minorities was to some extent the product of aggressive outreach in minority communities by the Republican National Committee and various state parties. In Texas, GOP senator John Cornyn carried the Latino vote by a single percentage point, while Greg Abbott, who is married to a Latina, lost it by only ten points in the race for governor. Abbott carried the Asian-American vote 52 to 48 percent.
The most surprising successes for GOP candidates may have come in Kansas and Georgia. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas lost the Latino vote (6 percent of the total) by only three points. In Georgia, businessman David Perdue won 42 percent of the Latino vote, in part by arguing that he knew how to improve the economic climate. Republicans suffered a disappointment, though, next door in Florida, where incumbent GOP governor Rick Scott’s share of the Hispanic vote fell from 50 percent in 2010 to 38 percent this year. Scott won the election in both 2010 and 2014 by a single point, which makes demographic comparisons easy — and troubling for Republicans. Staunchly anti-Communist Cubans make up about one-third of Florida’s Hispanic community, with the rest largely Puerto Rican and Central American. But the Cuban percentage of the overall Latino vote has been shrinking, and Scott was a more polarizing figure this year as he ran for reelection.
Looking west, Tom Donelson of Americas PAC – which ran advertising efforts to boost minority support for GOP gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Bruce Rauner in Illinois – says his own Election Day surveys show that both men won 38 percent of the Hispanic vote.
California Republicans surprised some observers in this election by mustering enough strength to block Democrats from winning a two-thirds supermajority in the State Senate and Assembly, thus giving their members in those bodies a voice in tax increases and budget matters. An analysis by KPCC Radio found that the accomplishment resulted partially from “the victories of two Republican candidates from Orange County — both women, both Asian American.”
Karthick Ramakrishnan, a University of California at Riverside political scientist, noted that Asian Americans haven’t traditionally been wedded to any one party. But there are signs in Califorina, he said, that they are becoming alienated from Democrats who want to restore the equivalent of a minority quota system for admission to the prestigious University of California; such de facto quotas are widely seen as giving advantages to blacks and Latinos at the expense of Asian students. “Just as the Asian-American vote moved toward the Democratic party over the last two decades, we may be seeing the beginning of a trend where they are moving back closer toward the Republican party,” Ramakrishnan told KPCC.
Congressman Ed Royce, a Republican who represents much of Orange County, is optimistic about the GOP’s ability to appeal to Asian Americans. “Asian populations here are hard-working, law-abiding, respectful of authority, and highly entrepreneurial,” he told me. “We can do very well with them if they understand that conservative values overlap with their traditions.”
Persuading minorities to abandon what in some cases are decades of allegiance to the Democratic party is a tall order. Republicans all too often approach voters only at election time, having failed to build lasting relationships in minority communities. But as this latest midterm shows, where Republicans did make legitimate and genuine outreach efforts, they began to gain votes from groups that some within the GOP had written off for good. Nothing is permanent in politics, unless you fatalistically believe that voters are a static commodity rather than people who can be appealed to on an individual basis.
— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for NRO.