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Jeb Bush on the Need for Hispanic Outreach

1:32 PM, Jan 11, 2011 • By JAY COST
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Over the weekend, Jeb Bush wrote a very insightful editorial for the Miami Herald:

Despite this success among candidates, conservatives continue to get unacceptably low support among Hispanic voters nationally. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, only 38 percent of Hispanics voted Republican in the 2010 congressional elections. In fact, center-right candidates have failed to win more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally since 2004. While the reason for such low numbers is debatable, the way to turn them around is clear: a long-term commitment to outreach and better articulation of our values by conservative leaders. I don't think 40 percent of the Hispanic vote can be our ceiling if we plan to impact our nation in the coming decades.

The good news is that in the Hispanic community, there is real opportunity. But conservatives have to commit to serious and sustained engagement. Hispanics are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country and will continue to play an important role in future elections and the future of our country. This past election was a sign that the Hispanic community is willing to listen to a center-right message. The question now is whether the center-right movement is willing to listen to and engage the Hispanic community.

Fortunately, the values that drive the center-right movement are shared by Americans of all backgrounds, including members of the Hispanic community. A center-right agenda means keeping taxes low and easing the regulatory burden on small businesses to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and job growth. A center-right agenda means instituting real education reforms that reward outstanding teachers and empower parents with choices if their children are trapped in a failing school. In short, a center-right agenda provides opportunity for those willing to work hard.

There are three crucial points here.

First, Republicans need to do better with Hispanic voters. It's just that simple. For now, pulling in less than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote is sufficient to win elections, but as more and more Hispanics enter the electorate, that number will not be enough. Remember, there is no reasonable path for the GOP to the presidency that doesn't go through Florida and Texas, both of which have significant Hispanic populations.  

Second, and just as important, Republicans can do better with Hispanic voters. As I have argued before, liberals wrongly lump Hispanics into a "non-white" voting group with African-Americans when in fact the two demographics exhibit different voting patterns. African-Americans vote as a very tight bloc, supporting Democrats regardless of income level, college education, ideology, etc. This is not the case for Hispanics, which means that what Bush calls appealing to the "center right" can work. One of the unfortunate side effects, I fear, of the left's talk about demography pushing the Democrats to a never-ending majority is that it has given conservatives the false impression that they can't compete for the Hispanic vote. It's just not true, so conservatives need to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Third, doing better doesn't require mimickry of the left's brand of identity politics. Instead, conservatives need to focus on communicating their pro-growth, pro-family message more effectively. Differences in tone, style, and spirit can make a huge difference in this endeavor. The big player in all this will be the 2012 Republican nominee, who will stand a very good chance of leading the GOP through the new decade. Whoever that person is, he will absolutely have to understand the importance of the Hispanic bloc, and be willing to work hard to bring in more voters from it. On this front, I'd note with interest that the Hispanic Leadership Network is hosting its inaugural conference next week to discuss how Republicans can do better with Hispanics. Among the attendees will be likely Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty.

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