DENVER, CO—It was standing room only at El Senor Sol, as the Colorado Hispanic Republicans, a handful of state legislators, and grassroots activists gathered to celebrate the organization’s one-year anniversary and discuss outreach strategies ahead of the 2012 election.
And it all comes down to one simple equation.
“Messaging plus education equals the Hispanic vote,” said outgoing CHR chairwoman Madelaine Rohan. The group has been promoting the get-out-the-message to related Republican groups and especially incumbent elected officials and declared candidates for the past several months.
State Republican Chairman Ryan Call offered his thoughts on the GOP’s organizational message and engagements plans for one of Colorado’s most important voter demographics on both state and national levels, arguing that a failure in Democratic governance has affected Latinos and other minorities particularly hard.
“In fact, it’s, quite frankly, the members of the Hispanic community and minority communities throughout this state that have suffered the worst,” Call stated.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics pegged the Hispanic unemployment rate at 10.5 percent for the start of 2012, more than two points higher than their overall estimate of 8.3 percent in the department’s January report.
But Call, who is fluent in Spanish, insisted that the best ambassadors and advocates for Republican principles are the community members themselves, not slick advertising.
“It’s remarkable how few opportunities we as Republicans take to communicate our message through Spanish-language media and within the community,” Call said, noting that in the past, conservative Latino voices are often unheard in Spanish-language media.
But if it’s a battle over issues, and not labels, Call feels that Republicans will make significant inroads with Latino voters who aren’t swayed by divisive partisan attacks that pit communities of interest against one another.
Rohan, Call, and others in attendance emphasized the need to spend even more time on Spanish-language television and radio, talking directly to Latino voters about issues like the economy and jobs, and to challenge the performance of their Democratic rivals.
“Now, with our president trampling on religious freedom rights—how many of you ever thought you’d live to see the day that that happened?” asked Martin Mendez, interim chair of CHR. “None of us ever saw that coming. It’s just absurd.”
Mendez argued that Latino voters’ issues were just the same as other conservatives.
“We want smaller government and less bureaucracy,” Mendez said. “The government is becoming too big, and infringes on the rights of the people.”
“Free markets keep people free.”
A Fox News Latino poll of “likely” Latino voters conducted in February showed that for Republicans at the presidential level, 2012 would be an arduous uphill slog.
None of the four remaining GOP candidates vying to challenge President Barack Obama received more than 14 percent against the Democratic incumbent. Obama earns roughly 70 percent in each head-to-head matchup, earning high marks from Latinos in job performance, healthcare, and economic categories.
Among the Republican candidates themselves, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney does best in the Fox News Latino poll, with 35 percent of Latinos supporting his candidacy—more than former Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Congressman Ron Paul combined. A large bloc remains undecided, however, at 31 percent.
But adding to the sense of urgency and concern is Obama’s performance among voters who punched the Republican ticket in 2008.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) earned a little more than 30 percent of the Latino vote in 2008. Of Latinos that voted for McCain, Obama is currently edging out Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum, according to the poll.
Call attributed some of that advantage to the “strident rhetoric” that has shown up from time to time during the prolonged Republican primary battle, but believes that the margins are not insurmountable, given that the next eight months are an eternity in political time.
And despite each having politely but repeatedly declined chatter about being offered a potential slot as Vice President on the Republican slate this year, Hispanic elected officials like New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio could prove to be formidable assets in their respective states, all three of which contain larger Latino populations than Colorado, and are worth a combined 40 electoral votes.
President George W. Bush was estimated to have drawn around 40 percent in his reelection in 2004, slightly ahead of his performance in 2000, where he garnered support from the Latino community near 35 percent.
State Representative Robert Ramirez (R-Westminster) told The Colorado Observer that voters in his district, including Latinos, share many of the same concerns when it comes to issues, whether they speak English or Spanish. The key, he said, was getting in front of them, in person or in media, and not ceding Spanish-media to the left.
“We can’t be afraid. It’s still media, they still want to have you on,” Ramirez said, encouraging his fellow Hispanic Republicans to become more assertive within their own communities.
Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff, candidate for House District 47, covering Otero county and portions of Fremont and Pueblo counties, told The Colorado Observer that rural issues like private property and agriculture concerns—as well as economy and jobs—are top priorities for Latinos in that area of the state.
“Hispanics do have a voice, and we need to step up and we need to be heard,” said Navarro-Ratzlaff. For Republicans engaging the Latino voters, this may include not just messaging, but explanation of the voting process itself.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hispanic or Latino citizens comprise nearly 21 percent of the state’s overall population and almost 32 percent of the total residents in Denver County.