Latino voters "will represent the margin of victory" in key states in this year's elections, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush reminded his fellow Republicans in a Washington Post op-ed.
The 58-year-old younger brother of former President George W. Bush, long seen as a strong potential contender for the White House, has opted to sit out the 2012 contest.
Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida from 1999-2007, has also refrained from endorsing any of the Republican hopefuls.
Just eight years after the party's successful effort to woo Hispanic voters in 2004, this community - the fastest-growing group in the United States, according to census data - has drifted away.
- Jeb Bush
"In the 15 states that are likely to decide who controls the White House and the Senate in 2013, Hispanic voters will represent the margin of victory," Bush wrote.
The significance of the Latino vote has come to the fore as GOP voters in Florida - which has large Hispanic population - prepare to go the polls next Tuesday to cast ballots for Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul.
"For the Republican Party, the stakes could not be greater," Bush said in the Post. "Just eight years after the party's successful effort to woo Hispanic voters in 2004, this community - the fastest-growing group in the United States, according to census data - has drifted away."
Bush, whose wife is from Mexico, urged Republicans to recognize the diversity of the U.S. Hispanic community, which includes Mexicans, Puerto Rican, Cubans and "many others."
"Some came here 50 years ago to make a better life; others came last year. Some have lots of education, some have none," the former Florida governor wrote.
Even so, he added, "there are common features and dreams across this community."
"(W)e need to think of immigration reform as an economic issue, not just a border security issue," Bush said, calling for policies to ensure "that new Americans can apply their talents here and succeed."
"And when they come, as surely they will, we must welcome them, no matter whether they speak Spanish or Creole or Portuguese," Bush insisted.
The front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, has recently aligned himself with staunch opponents of illegal immigration, while his chief rival, former House Speaker Gingrich, takes a more conciliatory tone on the issue.