Election 2012: Can the Republican Party Become a "Latino" Party?

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The Republican Party hasn’t done much to attract Latino voters. An alternative to the Democrat’s DREAM Act is rumored to be released soon, with Florida Junior Senator Marco Rubio likely to be the “face” of this proposal. The failed Democratic version puts illegal students brought as children on the path to citizenship if they go to college, enter the military, and have been here for at least five years. Some GOP ideas that are still being hammered out include: only allowing undocumented immigrants who want to serve in the military the opportunity to stay. The proposal is said to stop short of granting citizenship.

The hot button issue of immigration has turned off many Latinos following the GOP primaries, particularly the candidate debates, despite their immigration status or background, because the tone has gone negative. This partially explains why some in the Republican Party are attempting to bridge any divide that has opened—or widened—with Hispanic voters. Team Romney has crunched the numbers and admits that if Mitt becomes the nominee, he will need 35% of the Latino vote to beat President Obama, according to The Wall Street Journal. Yet a Fox News Latino poll conducted in February shows only 14% of likely Hispanic voters surveyed would cast ballots for Romney.

Now add this: the FNL poll also reveals a 90% approval for the DREAM Act and 85% approval for some kind of comprehensive immigration reform. Although immigration consistently polls behind the economy, jobs, education, and health care, it’s still important to an emerging community that feels disrespected by politicians from both sides of the aisle. Many also sympathize with the psychological, emotional, and economic toll on divided families and communities.

It is not coincidental that around the time Mitt Romney “swept” the Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia primaries thus cementing his lead, he started floating a strategy targeting Hispanic voters. I call it the Desencanto Strategy where the Republican frontrunner, his campaign, and supporters are focusing on the disillusionment that many Latinos feel toward the President who failed to rally the support necessary to pass the DREAM Act and immigration reform while his party controlled Congress (there has been no mention of Republican congressional resistance or a GOP comprehensive immigration reform policy put forth).

If Mitt Romney becomes the Republican nominee, will the Desencanto Strategy pick up steam? Will Hispanics feel embraced and start referring to the Republican Party as Mi GOP? Ultimately, Latinos, like all voters, need to study a candidate’s and a party’s record and decide who will be the best choice to advance the interests of their families, their communities, and the nation?

Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club, is a Washington, DC based Latina politics contributor. Read more of Viviana Hurtado's political posts here.

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