Republicans can win over Florida Hispanics with economic pitch
For conservatives looking for a way back from the 2012 presidential election, Florida is promising turf. Perhaps no other state provides a microcosm of American voters quite like Florida, with its mix of northern transplants, rural and urban voters and an ethnically diverse electorate — including a sizable Hispanic segment.
President Obama’s re-election success in Florida stemmed from the overwhelming support of Hispanics, who make up 17 percent of the electorate — up from 14 percent in 2008. This in an election where 73,189 votes decided the winner in Florida. Clearly, conservatives have their work cut out. So what to do?
For starters, conservatives should resist over-reading the results to conclude that Hispanics are now a permanent liberal voting bloc. For one thing, about half of eligible Hispanic voters sat out the 2012 election. More importantly, according to a National Opinion Research Center survey, Hispanics who aren’t politically active identify themselves as “politically conservative.”
This does suggest a clear window of opportunity for conservatives to connect with the nation’s fastest-growing demographic.
For some, the way to appeal to Hispanics is by changing policy positions for short-term political gain. This approach reeks of political opportunism, and seldom works.
Another approach is simply to believe that spending more money is the solution. The Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, seems to articulate that view when he told CNN that his “largest strategic error was not investing sufficiently, particularly in Hispanic TV and Hispanic outreach.”
No doubt more resources and better targeting could have helped close the gap, but as Georgetown University political scientist Dan Hopkins reported, “even major shifts in advertising would have produced only minor shifts.”
Conservatives would do well to learn from Andy Vidak, a cherry farmer and cattle rancher who recently beat an incumbent Democrat to win a seat in the California state senate.
Rather than pandering, Vidak centered his pitch on the economy and unemployment. As he puts it: “I ran on jobs, affordable energy and water, opposition to (a) $100 billion ‘bullet train’ federal boondoggle…and on common sense, which has no party lines.”
In other words, message matters. Also notice that Vidak didn’t include immigration in the mix. Immigration seldom ranks as the most important issue for Hispanics.
Yes, every state is different. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be drawn from the rancher’s winning formula.
President Obama’s economic policies have been an utter failure for the Hispanic community. Since he took office, unemployment among Hispanics has climbed steadily. In Florida, the percentage of unemployed Hispanics is likely in double digits. An analysis by Sentier Research found that the median income for households in the South declined; for Hispanic households, median income dropped from $42,931 to $40,979.
Conservatives have a compelling case to make to Hispanics struggling to find work, or who labor in jobs with bleak prospects of a raise or promotion. Similarly, the conservative call to ease the regulatory burden will be well-received by Hispanic business owners.
Florida is ripe for this message. For conservatives, the road to redemption will need to run through the state.
- Ortega is strategic initiatives manager and editor of Libertad.org at The Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared in The Daytona Beach News-Journal