The Tea Party group that sponsored a prime-time response last week to President Obama's State of the Union address is the latest group recognizing the power of the Latino vote.
Officials with the Tea Party Express, the nation’s largest Tea Party political action committee, have been discussing their own Latino outreach, said Sal Russo, the group’s co-founder.
“We’ve been trying to do a bus tour that would focus on communities that we don’t normally talk to,” Russo said.
Russo, who worked for Ronald Reagan when he was California governor, said the former president had a rule that any campaigning should include voters who didn't traditionally pick Republicans
“He believed in going to labor unions, going to places where you don’t normally go, so people could hear his message about cutting taxes and growing the economy,” he said.
Officials of Tea Party groups -- national and smaller, local ones -- like to point out these days that some of the nation's most prominent Latino politicians, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, were Tea Party candidates
The plans by the Tea Party, widely viewed by many liberals as being antithetical to the interests and well-being of minorities, follows an announcement last week by House Republicans about a new, ambitious Latino outreach campaign.
On Feb 11, the House Republican Conference, which essentially represents the chamber’s GOP, launched a Spanish-language Twitter account, @gopespanol.
The account is part of a broader plan – still being hashed out – to reach out to Hispanics, and repair their image with them.
“It’s a recognition that we, as Republicans, did not do as well as we hoped in the 2012 elections with a number of groups – with young people, with women, and with Hispanics,” said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who is chairperson of the conference and was the House GOP liaison to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Not all Republicans and conservatives are on board with the efforts to court Latinos, particularly when it involves relying on Spanish.
Some the most conservative Republicans in the House, for instance, see it as pandering.
In an interview with the National Journal, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he is opposed to trying to reach out to Latinos in Spanish.
“There’s a conflicting message that comes out from the Republicans if we want to recognize the unifying power of English, and meanwhile, we send out communications in multiple languages,” said King, who has one of the most hard-line approaches to immigration. “Official business and documents needs to be in English.”
The 2012 presidential elections, and the critical role that Latinos played in the victory of President Barack Obama, led to soul-searching on the part of many Republicans.
Romney won only 27 percent support from Hispanics and even less from Asians in the 2012 presidential election. And an AP-GFK poll last month showed 62 percent of voters want to let otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants eventually become citizens — up 12 percentage points from 2010.
During the GOP primaries, Romney wooed the party's right by echoing their tough rhetoric on immigration and advocating "self-deportation" — making life in the U.S. so miserable for undocumented immigrants they would voluntarily return home. His campaign staff later said they regretted the sharp turn because it alienated minority voters.
Tea Party members say Latinos, and other minorities, are as critical to their future as the Republicans are finding they are to the future of their party.
“The bus tour is the iconic symbol of the Tea Party,” Russo said. “When we’ve gone to some states, like Texas, we’ve had good Hispanic participation. We’re trying to do a [national] bus tour that would be more directed that way.”
“We want to try to get our email communication and our website in Spanish,” Russo said. “The Tea Party movement has been successful using social media – emails, Twitter, Facebook. That’s how people found out about us. We have to communicate directly”
In Tallahassee, Fla., the local Tea Party president, Beatriz Maciá, has been sending out notices about Tea Party activities in both Spanish and English.
Republicans who resist the Latino outreach efforts and use of Spanish to achieve it, she said, need to see the larger picture.
“We want to remind them of the successful Republicans who had the big tent, there’s always been room for all of us," she said.
The House GOP’s Latino outreach, she said, is the right way to go.
“It’s terrific, that they are trying to be as inclusive as they can be,” she said. “Hispanics are closer to Republicans in their principles, their values; faith is an important part of our culture.”
An aggressive courtship of Latinos in Texas in 2010 helped Tea Party candidate Blake Farenthold defeat Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, albeit by a razor-thin margin. The defeat of Ortiz in a traditionally Democratic and Latino district was considered a major coup for Tea Party and Republicans.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente