Republicans Step Up Efforts to Win Hispanic Vote

Republicans seek to give disenchanted Hispanic voters a home.

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It's fair to say Republicans have traditionally underachieved when it comes to winning support from Hispanic voters, who have historically supported Democratic candidates by wide margins. But the message coming from national Republicans on Tuesday was that at least this election cycle, they are going to try a little harder.

"We've learned from previous elections on how we can improve on what we are doing and this year, in 2012, I am very excited about the program," said Bettina Inclan, Hispanic outreach director for the Republican National Committee, during a press briefing at the RNC headquarters.

"There are certain polls that show some members of the Hispanic community feel the Republican Party isn't doing enough to include them in what we're doing, to reach out to them. So what we're trying to do is rebuild that relationship to make sure that they know that we do care about the Hispanic community," she said.

Inclan introduced state directors for the six battlegrounds identified by the GOP for targeted outreach efforts: Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, and Virginia. All six states are expected to be hotly contested in the presidential election and have seen explosions in Hispanic populations in recent years.

[Read: GOP official says Romney 'still deciding' on immigration.]

The GOP seeks to combine direct community outreach and get-out-the-vote operations with targeted voter data that pinpoints likely voters--soft Democrats, independents, and Republicans who may have relocated since the last election.

The RNC did not have state directors in 2008, Inclan said, and a party spokeswoman said the focus had been on more of a national strategy. The results were disappointing.

Republican nominee John McCain won 31 percent of the Latino vote last election compared to the 44 percent secured by President George W. Bush in his 2004 re-election.

"The Democrats were much better at putting people on the ground and making it part of their actual voter contact plan. We are now doing that," said Kirsten Kukowski, RNC spokeswoman.

Inclan said Republicans are optimistic they can win voters over by making the campaign a referendum on the economy under President Obama, as well as his broken promises on other issues close to Latinos.

[Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.]

"Obama's policies have devastated many members of the Hispanic community. High unemployment, record number of Hispanic children living in poverty--I could go on and on," she said. "I don't think there's anything more personal than when you come here to try and achieve the American dream and this economic situation makes it so much harder to fulfill your dream."

Reminding Latinos how Obama has let them down is critical, Inclan said.

"Hispanics are incredibly disappointed with immigration. This is a president who as a candidate promised immigration reform in his first year. Three years later we still don't even have a plan," she said. "He talked about uniting families, and all he's done is deport more immigrants than any president in American history."

Also part of the RNC effort to win over Latinos is ramping up efforts on Spanish-language media and directly reaching out to their communities.

"We've not had enough of a conversation on the issues and how these issues impact the Hispanic voters at a very local level," Inclan said, which is why the inclusion of state directors is vital.

[Check out political cartoons on immigration.]

But another key for the GOP is not talking about hot-button issues that have turned off many Latino voters, such as immigration.

Inclan frequently circumvented reporters' questions about whether or not her job is made harder by Republicans' stances on the issue, particularly presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

"Candidates and elected officials dictate immigration reform. We at the RNC don't create policy," she said. "It's an important issue. But we also know that the No. 1 issue is jobs and the economy."

She also caused the Romney campaign some heartburn when she responded to a reporter's question about whether or not his support of strict immigration policies unpopular with many Hispanic voters will be difficult to overcome, saying, "He's still deciding what his position on immigration is."