Former President George W. Bush.Getty
FILE: March 18, 2013: Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus gestures while speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.AP
Having lost gains it had made with the country's increasingly influential Hispanic voters, the GOP is still figuring out the best way to get them back in the fold.
The party's now betting on the wisdom of former President George W. Bush.
The new GOP's new Hispanic outreach is being modeled after Bush’s 2004 “Viva Bush” presidential campaign, said the party's deputy political director.
The “Viva Bush” campaign, which covered 32 states, succeeded in getting Bush one of the largest margins – 44 percent – of Latino voter support for a Republican presidential candidate.
Jennifer Korn, the Republican National Committee’s deputy political director who coordinated the “Viva Bush” campaign, said that the strategy in 2004 was to blanket as many Hispanic communities as possible with paid workers and volunteers.
The approach pivoted on the kind of breadth and depth that Republican presidential campaigns, before and after Bush’s presidency, failed to apply in efforts to increase support among Hispanics, Korn said. Bush’s 2004 Latino outreach was run by his own campaign, not the RNC.
“Usually, [RNC] Hispanic outreach starts maybe three to six months before an election, and it just stops after the election,” Korn told Fox News Latino, adding that the “Viva Bush” campaign began about 18 months before the election. “The main difference [from 2012] is that we’re starting early now, and this will be a year-round permanent structure.”
Korn shared more details of the RNC’s Hispanic outreach plan days after its chairman announced that the organization was hiring Hispanic state and field directors in seven states: Florida, Texas, California, New Jersey, Virginia, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. Since then, the RNC has opened an office in New York, as well, and plans to add Hispanic outreach staffs in 10 more states before the end of the year.
"We are building a ground game that will allow us to compete for every voter and will outlast any one cycle or campaign,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. “I’m certain with these early and unprecedented investments we can achieve Republican victories up and down the ballot now and for years to come.”
Many Republicans engaged in soul-searching after the bruising defeat – among Latino voters, in particular – in the 2012 presidential election. President Obama got 71 percent of the Latino vote; his GOP challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, received 27 percent.
Many observers blamed the poor performance among Latino voters on comments that Romney and other Republicans made during the campaign that many Latinos perceived as insensitive or offensive to them.
They included hard-line positions on immigration, such as support for “self-deportation,” where undocumented immigrants would find life in the United States so difficult they would just leave on their own.
But the anti-Latino image many perceived in the GOP went beyond Romney. Many of the Republicans candidates struck a hard-line tone during the GOP primaries on immigration and other issues that Latinos said they followed, even if those issues did not directly affect their lives.
“Certainly ‘boots on the ground’ are helpful in any community that a political party hopes to court,” Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, told Fox News Latino. “But the outreach effort has to support and reflect the party and candidates issue positions and messages.”
Last year, the RNC said it was stepping up the Latino outreach by hiring people focused on courting the community in various key states. The party conceded that Democrats long had made a better grassroots effort at communicating with Latino voters.
But last year’s efforts ended after the election, noted Korn. This time, she said, the RNC is looking at states that are experiencing some of the largest rates of Hispanic growth in the nation, and developing an approach that involves working with state GOP parties and making sure that local GOP elected officials and candidates make connections with Latino voters.
In New Jersey, for example, where the Latino population is projected to grow from its present 18 percent to 30 percent in 2040, the RNC outreach staff will be focused on Gov. Chris Christie's 2014 re-election race.
“We want to make sure they are going to Latino events and that they have a relationship with the community in a real way,” Korn said.
As occurred in the “Viva Bush” campaign, the new outreach will closely track its effectiveness, she noted.
“In 2004, we had 29,000 Hispanic volunteers who went into the communities, went door to door, and then every week we’d look at the metrics,” Korn said. “We would track what voters were telling the volunteers and staff, what they were saying about George Bush, what they were saying about what would make them vote, and that helped make our get-out-the-vote effort very strong.”
The aggressive, comprehensive push helped boost Latino voters support for Bush to 44 percent in 2004, from 35 percent in 2000.
The GOP's failure to attract more non-white voters has become more magnified as the nation's electorate grows more racially and ethnically diverse.
The RNC commissioned a 97-page post-election autopsy report this year, which acknowledged that the party has alienated some of the fastest-growing voter groups in the country: African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans. The party launched a project to spend $10 million on outreach to these voters.
Like Jillson, the Democratic National Committee said that Republicans must soften their positions on issues that are crucial to Latinos if their courtship of the population is to stand a chance of succeeding.
“They’re singularly focused on tactics and failing to address the underlying issues,” said Mike Czin, the DNC national press secretary. “They didn’t lose in 2012 because of a lack of outreach or resources, but because of their message.”
Republican conservatives, noted Czin, are impeding movement on an immigration reform bill in Congress, and fighting the Affordable Care Act, which Latinos overwhelmingly support in polls.
“Not only have not rectified their mistake,” Czin said, “they’ve taken massive steps backwards, with all voters, but particularly with the Hispanic community.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente