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Parties Court Latinos as Swing Voters in 2012

GOP Sees Opportunity in a Formerly Untapped Minority Constituency

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Charlie Gonzalez says that even though the sputtering economy has hurt President Barack Obama among Latinos, the president's Latino support will crystallize once a Republican nominee emerges and contrasts are made.

Latinos are set to play a major role in the 2012 elections, and both parties are ramping up efforts to woo Hispanic voters.

The GOP sees an opportunity with this fast-growing segment of the population, which President Barack Obama’s team has made clear is central to his re-election strategy.

The Republican National Committee will try to capitalize on the fact that Latino unemployment is more than 2 points higher than the national average by contrasting its positions against Obama’s record on the economy.

“Our political team will acknowledge that we have not always communicated very well with Hispanics across the country,” RNC Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski told Roll Call. “What you’ll see this cycle is our political team is working to have outreach folks on the ground in the major battleground states — Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida,” as well as in Virginia and North Carolina.

The RNC hired a press secretary for Latino issues, Alex Franceschi, and has regional political directors on the ground in Florida and Las Vegas who are beginning to open lines of communication with Latino communities. The RNC is also in the process of hiring two Latino voter outreach directors to be stationed in Washington, D.C.

“Despite the fact that we don’t have a candidate yet to rally behind, we already have people in the Republican Party working hard to create jobs,” Franceschi said. They want to let their “Hispanic stars shine” — statewide elected Republicans such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.

For its part, the Obama campaign recently hired Adrian Saenz as Latino vote director, and the Democratic National Committee added Juan Sepúlveda as senior adviser for Hispanic affairs.

The Obama campaign’s various teams, including media, field and digital will all be involved in Latino voter engagement, which will include voter registration, education, persuasion and turnout, according to a campaign source.

Latinos have been targeted on the airwaves for months, with Crossroads GPS running Spanish-language TV ads at least twice in Nevada, as well as in Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Washington, D.C. The DNC has aired Spanish-language ads pushing Obama’s jobs bill in a few of those states in recent months as well.

Major Latino organizations believe Latino voters will have even more of an effect on the 2012 presidential election than they did three years ago. With redistricting and reapportionment creating new opportunities, Latino representation in Congress is expected to increase come 2013.

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