By Catalina Camia
November 6, 2013
WASHINGTON — Republicans are looking at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's success with Hispanics as a sign that the party can win back a growing voting bloc that has turned away from them in recent elections.
Christie won 51% of the Hispanic vote Tuesday on his way to cruising to a second term, according to a survey of voters as they left their polling places. That was a 19-point increase from his showing in 2009.
"Conservative Republicans can get a significant share of the Hispanic vote provided they reach out aggressively and campaign in Hispanic communities," said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster. "It makes a huge difference when you have an attitude of inclusiveness and make a serious effort to gain the votes of non-white voters."
Christie has long reached out to Hispanic voters and spent over $1 million on a Spanish-language ad campaign in this campaign. His victory comes as the GOP undergoes an effort to rebrand itself and reshape its political approach after Mitt Romney's loss to President Obama in the 2012 election. Romney won 27% of the Hispanic vote last year, the lowest showing for a GOP presidential candidate in a two-person race since the 1970s.
The Republican National Committee hopes to build on its outreach in New Jersey, where staffers were dedicated to Hispanic outreach and bilingual voter contact to find new GOP voters. The GOP staffers worked with the Christie campaign and state party, and plan to repeat that model in seven other states with large Hispanic populations as they gear up for the 2014 midterm elections.
Izzy Santa of the RNC says 16 paid staffers have been deployed in these eight states — which include Florida, California, Pennsylvania and New York — and are building coalitions with other organizations to make inroads with Hispanics.
Democrats say Christie's victory and strong showing with Hispanics is an "anomaly," driven by the "force of his personality" and popularity with New Jersey voters for the work he's done to rebuild the state after deadly Superstorm Sandy.
"I don't think that is transferable to other candidates nor is it sustainable," said Mo Elleithee, communications director of the Democratic National Committee. "The Republicans have not figured out how to connect" with Hispanics, blacks and women. "They continue to run divisive messaging, and that's going to be something that they continue to struggle with."
Democrats point to the Virginia governor's race as an example that the GOP rebranding effort isn't working. In that more competitive race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe won 66% of Hispanic voters compared with 29% for Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Those figures are based on a pre-election survey by Latino Decisions, which conducts polls and studies on Hispanic voters.
Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general, drew fire in this campaign for a gaffe he made last year, when he made a flip reference to immigration policy when talking about a pest-control bill in Washington. The Virginia Democratic Party made an ad out of it, saying he "compared immigration policy to exterminating rats." His campaign said the ad was misleading.
By contrast, Christie supports a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to the United States illegally and reversed course to say he would support legislation that would provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. In 2011, Christie said he would veto the tuition measure.
Republican Party elders such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the party's 2008 presidential nominee, have long said GOP candidates need to soften their rhetoric when it comes to issues such as immigration or risk alienating Hispanics and other minorities.
Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, both viewed as potential 2016 presidential candidates, are often held up as examples of GOP politicians who appeal to Hispanic voters.
"If Republicans are identified as an anti-Hispanic party, and not just an anti-immigrant party, that will hurt them for decades," said Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions and a University of Washington political scientist.
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