In 2008, John McCain took just 31 percent of the Hispanic vote and lost the election to President Barack Obama. Republicans in 2012 want to up their share of the vote among the surging Latino electorate by expanding their outreach to the Hispanic community. But even at a press event designed to tout such outreach efforts, the RNC wasn’t ready to reveal many details about how they’d win over a traditionally Democratic bloc.
RNC’s Hispanic Outreach Director Bettina Inclan made the case during a session with reporters Tuesday that Republicans’ message to the Hispanic community — like their message to women and young voters — won’t be tailor-made but will instead focus on jobs and the economy. When it came to other issues important to the Latino community — notably immigration — the RNC was unprepared to talk specifics.
“As a candidate, to my understanding, [Mitt Romney’s] still deciding what his position on immigration is. So I can’t talk about what his proposal’s going to be because I don’t know what Romney, exactly, he’s talked about different issues,” Inclan said, stressing that the RNC’s role is to conduct outreach, not set policy. “I can’t talk about something that I don’t know what the position is.”
Inclan did damage control immediately after the session ended, tweeting a clarification that she “misspoke” and linking to Romney’s immigration positions as stated on his website.
I misspoke, Romney’s position on immigration is clear mi.tt/KiMi3x— Bettina Inclan (@BettinaInclan) May 8, 2012
But Republicans were happy to discuss another candidate’s views on immigration. President Obama “as a candidate promised immigration reform, promised it in his first year,” Inclan said. “Three years later we still don’t even have a plan. He talked about uniting families and all he’s done is deport more immigrants than any president in American history.”
Inclan wasn’t clear on how Republicans would offer an alternative policy-wise, but simply said that the election would be a referendum on Obama. Hispanics are “American citizens who have been impacted by this economy, who have a high unemployment rate,” Inclan said.
The Republican National Committee outlined their outreach efforts in broad strokes but declined to get into specifics.
Though the RNC declined to lay out any goals, a widely used benchmark is that Romney will need 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in order to win the general election. Conversely, Democrats need to net 60 percent of the Hispanic vote, and make sure turnout among Latinos doesn’t fall too much — an effort that could prove tricky as some reports show that registration is down.
Last month, pollsters at Latino Decisions noted how crucial turnout will be to the Obama campaign. “[I]n 2012, if Republicans hold their white, Asian and ‘other’ shares at their highly successful 2010 levels, Latinos and African Americans alone could still give Democrats a 50.3 percent share of the national popular vote if they simply vote just as they did in 2008,” the report said.
The RNC has brought on six state-level outreach directors in swing states where they believe the Hispanic vote could tip the scales: New Mexico, North Carolina, Nevada, Florida, Colorado and Virginia. Arizona, they said, was not on the list because they believe it is solidly red. The directors have just been brought on board and their efforts will be part of the RNC’s larger outreach infrastructure, the RNC said Tuesday.
“Our get-out-the-vote effort is going to be very targeted this year, a lot of specific data that we have on exactly who we have to reach out,” Inclan said. In battleground states, the RNC will be doing “smart” voter registration targeting known voters who have moved to a new state or municipality.
But beyond that, the exact plan to get Hispanic voters to the polls and voting Republican is still muddled. Are Republicans targeting Hispanics who voted for Obama? Or for George W. Bush? Those who are not yet registered? “I’m not going to give you my entire playbook,” Inclan said Tuesday.
“I can’t give you our entire strategy, but clearly what we’re trying to get is a lot of these swing voters who are disappointed with President Obama,” Inclan said. “The reality is a lot of times the Hispanic vote is very consistent with what the swing vote population is, and that’s why they’re part of the swing vote.”
That’s not exactly borne out by the numbers. Sixty-seven percent of Hispanic voters went for Obama in 2008. Inclan didn’t directly address the awkward question of whether the RNC would benefit from low turnout among Latinos, and whether efforts to register new Latino voters could work against them. “I think Hispanic voters in every state are important and we’re going to reach out to all of them,” Inclan said.
In addition to on-the-ground outreach, the RNC said it would have a presence on Spanish-language media outlets and in social media. However, thus far Mitt Romney has steered clear of Spanish-language media and the Obama campaign’s ads have been running for weeks on Hispanic media outlets unrivaled by Republicans.
At this point in McCain’s campaign, he had already begun to make overtures to the Hispanic press and did throughout his campaign. As of early May, Romney hadn’t made a Spanish version of his website or hired a Spanish-speaking spokesperson, Buzzfeed reported.
The Obama campaign, having a natural head start with a Democratic-leaning constituency — he leads Romney by a whopping 68 points among Hispanics in a new survey — is also ahead in terms of outreach. It launched the grassroots organizing group “Latinos for Obama” last month, accompanied by over 200 events across the country to reach out to and register Hispanic voters.
Tuesday, the Obama campaign released its second set of Spanish-language television and radio ads. The new ads, going up on Hispanic media in Colorado, Nevada and Florida, feature Obama campaign members talking about President Obama’s health care law.
“The RNC and the Romney campaign are playing catch-up in their outreach to Hispanic voters,” DNC National Press Secretary Melanie Roussell told TPM. The Obama campaign said it has been reaching out to Hispanic voters for a year now by knocking on doors, phone-banking and registering voters in addition to recently ramped up efforts and ad buys. Roussell dismissed the effectiveness of the RNC’s new outreach efforts based on their inability to connect with voters on policies like immigration: “Hispanics have heard Mitt Romney loud and clear and know that he is one of the most extreme candidates in history on policies important to Hispanic voters.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.