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Getting to Sí

For some Republicans, the Hispanic vote is less elusive than for others.

Jul 22, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 42 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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“I just show up. It’s that simple,” Pearce says. “We go into the parts of the community that typically Republicans don’t go. We engage. And we’re not just there for the photo-ops.”

Pearce hasn’t renounced his firmly conservative views on the national debt and federal spending, but he doesn’t dismiss the concerns of his Hispanic constituents, many of whom live in impoverished, crime-ridden border towns and tend to favor government programs. The typical resident there wants cleaner streets and safe neighborhoods, like any other American, but Pearce tries to encourage these communities to take responsibility where the federal government can’t or won’t help. “Clean up your own town,” he’ll tell them.

“People trust that kind of talk,” Pearce says. “There’s a lot about my directness. Personal accountability and responsibility is huge in the Hispanic community. I live that.”

The challenge, he says, is getting Hispanics to see that Republicans, not just Democrats, share their values, too. “I grew up dirt poor, so I know what most of them are experiencing,” Pearce says. “I’m a Republican but not the enemy. They’ve gotten to know me and they trust me.”

“You start with the issues, but politics is also very personal,” Farenthold agrees. “It’s much easier to vote for somebody you’ve met and somebody you like. You’re more likely to vote for somebody you like even if you don’t agree with them on the issues.”

Even if that issue is immigration? Conventional wisdom holds that Republicans can’t win Hispanic voters until they sign on to some kind, any kind, of immigration reform, especially one that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Polling shows Hispanic voters are particularly tuned in to immigration politics, but there are some surprises. A 2012 poll, for instance, found that 46 percent of Hispanics in Texas favor a plan that would give illegal immigrants work permits but bar them from a path to citizenship. 

 

Many Hispanics arrived in this country legally, Pearce notes. “They have a sense of fair play and following the rules that doesn’t really appreciate people who’ve broken the law. They want them to be treated right, but they also don’t want them to get in line ahead of their family members who waited like they did, 18 years or whatever it takes.”

Nevertheless, Republican candidates who are too insensitive to the nuances of the immigration debate will continue to push away Hispanics. Mitt Romney’s rightward move on immigration in the 2012 GOP primary began as a way to outflank the field’s relative liberal on the issue—none other than Texas governor Rick Perry. It ended with Romney’s much-mocked suggestion that illegal immigrants “self-deport.”

“The issue is, can we deal with the problems we have in this country—it’s not just immigration—can we deal with them compassionately, without being haters, and stay consistent to our conservative principles?” asks Farenthold. “And I think we can do it with immigration. I think a pathway to legalization is a good compromise. It would get a lot of Republicans on board.”

Hispanics are also far from single-issue voters. A June Latino Decisions poll found that while 55 percent of Hispanics surveyed said immigration reform was the most or second-most important issue facing the Hispanic community, 35 percent responded with job creation and fixing the economy, 15 percent with education reform, and 14 percent with health care.

In all likelihood, it wouldn’t hurt the GOP to adopt a kinder, gentler approach to immigration. At the same time, the party could develop conservative policies that more directly address domestic, pocketbook issues like health care, education, and taxes, an effort that would reinvigorate white middle-class support for Republicans. Along the way, they may pick up Hispanic middle-class voters, too. But they should probably start by showing up.

Michael Warren is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard and a 2012 Robert Novak journalism fellow.

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