RNC Chairman Reince Priebus announced the organization is endorsing immigration reform and will engage in greater GOP Latino outreach. (Photo/Getty Images )

RNC sets sights on Latinos; polls show immigration reform key ingredient

Months after President Barack Obama‘s resounding win over Republican Mitt Romney, the GOP is out with a plan to target the voters who many credit with putting the president over the top: the nation’s burgeoning Latino electorate.

President Barack Obama’s 71 percent share of the Latino vote in November’s election, as well as the overwhelming support among Latinos of all political parties for immigration reform, has led to an important shift in the Republican party’s policies and outreach to Latino voters.  Today the Republican National Committee announced its support for comprehensive immigration reform and vowed to spend $10 million this year on hiring staff  to  expand outreach to Latino and other voting groups. The moves were announced as part of a rollout of the party’s Growth and Opportunity Project  report.

“When Republicans lost in November, it was a wake-up call,” said Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Reince Priebus.  “Our message was weak, our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive,” added Priebus.

Republican strategist Luis Alvarado, co-founder of Grow Elect, a PAC to recruit, train and fund Latino Republican candidates, says endorsing comprehensive immigration reform and pledging greater outreach to Latino voters is critical to the GOP.

“You can’t just change the pizza box, you have to change the pizza as well,” says Alvarado, who is based in Los Angeles, California.  “When Latinos see a Donald Trump at CPAC, they get the impression that he is speaking on behalf of the party,” says Alvarado.  He was referring to recent comments made by Trump saying that supporting immigration reform is a “suicide mission” since the “11 million illegals” would vote Democrat if they are given a path to citizenship, and that immigration reform should bring in more “people from Europe.”

Alvarado worries voters will think Republicans with anti-Latino or anti-immigrant rhetoric speak for the whole party and says the new RNC strategy is important. “It’s a very sobering report, it’s refreshing to see how in-depth and how specific the report was regarding the challenges the Republican party has and the opportunities to reach out,” Alvarado adds.

As part of the Growth and Opportunity Project, the RNC also wants to create Senior Level Advisory groups within the Latino community, regularly engage with Latino civil rights organizations — “groups with which we’ve had minimal contact in the past,” said Preibus — and build a recruitment program for minority candidates.  The $10 million spending blitz to attract minorities and young people in the next few months is also a marked contrast to spending during the elections. A few months before the November elections, the Obama campaign had spent $6.1 million on Spanish-language advertising, almost 12 times more than Romney’s Spanish-language campaign, which had spent $521,000, according to NBC News.

RELATED: GOP report calls for sweeping reforms to compete in 2016

Right now, however, the biggest move Republicans can make to get the attention of Latino voters is to help pass comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, said Stanford political scientist Gary Segura. In a press call today, Segura went through the results of a recent Latino Decisions poll of registered Latino voters, which found that 64 percent of Latino Republican voters and 71 percent of independent Latino voters think immigration reform should be a Congressional priority this year.  The poll also found support was solid among both college-educated Latinos and working class Latinos, as well as naturalized and U.S.-born Hispanics.

More importantly for Republican strategists, the poll found that 26 percent of Latino Obama supporters, 35 percent of  Latino independents, and 38 percent of Hispanics aged 18 to 39 say they would be more likely to vote for a Republican candidate if the party helped push immigration reform.  Among Hispanic Republicans, 8 percent said they would be less likely to vote Republican if the House blocks an immigration reform bill.

If Republicans can get the immigration issue resolved, “there is room for electoral growth for the Republican party,” said Segura.  “Fifty thousand Latinos turn 18 every month; it’s a very daunting prospect for a party that got 25 percent of the Latino vote,” he added.

 Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, Director of Civic Engagement and Immigration for the National Council of La Raza, said, “Republicans need to rebuild their relationship with the electorate; the biggest wins or losses can be accrued by Republicans.  Changing course on this issue allows them to have a new calling card to rekindle their relationship.”

Republican Latinos such as Luis Alvarado say the Growth and Opportunity report is a good first step, but it’s only the beginning.

“The commitment for $10 million for minority outreach sets a precedent that the rhetoric is followed by action,” says Alvarado.  He adds, “it is the follow through that ensures success.”

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