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It's the Catholic Issue, Stupid!

GOP Primary Candidates Miss the Mark in Florida with Hispanic Voters

David Werling POSTED: 1/30/12

( Polls in Florida indicate that only 46 percent of Latino voters support President Barack Obama if he were to run today against an unnamed Republican candidate, according to a Catholic Online report dated January 28th. This is a significant turnaround for the Hispanic vote in Florida, down from 57 percent. In the state of conservative Republican and Cuban Marco Rubio, there is a clear indication that the Democratic Party is losing its hold on the Latino vote. However, the Republican Party refuses, as usual, to capitalize on this due to a worn out and erroneous assessment of the Latino voting base.

The problem is that the neoconservative strategists in the GOP simply do not understand the Hispanic electorate, and this was made clearly evident by the campaigning of the Republican candidates this past week in Florida. Both the Romney and Gingrich camps are tirelessly running Spanish language ads aimed at garnering the support of Hispanic leaders, however, the content of their message is widely missing the mark. That content is almost entirely circumscribed by immigration policy, but immigration policy may not be the first or even the second concern on the Latino list of political priorities, especially in regards to Cubans who have never been, nor have they ever had to be, concerned with undocumented immigration.

Not that long ago the Republican Party attempted to transform their “Southern Strategy” into a “Hispanic Strategy”. This was the project of Lance Tarrance, as he announced it at the 2000 GOP Republican National Committee. Amnesty for undocumented immigrants became the prime focus of the Bush/Rove Hispanic Strategy. The Bush administration hired Senator Mel Martinez to chair the GOP. Martinez’s Spanish/English press conference at his appointment was supposed to signal a new era for the Republican Party’s relationship with Latino communities.

It flopped. The problem with this new Hispanic Strategy with its emphasis on amnesty was that the vast majority of the American electorate opposed it. The GOP was risking twenty votes from the base for every one Hispanic vote they thought they might gain by promoting amnesty. It was imprudent to say the least, but it looked good on paper to the neoconservatives who finally thought they had found common ground with a growing ethnic population they had constantly failed to connect with. The losses incurred during the 2006 election spurred the imprudence along, and the John McCain camp picked up the amnesty banner with renewed vigor, attempting to forge ahead with a bipartisan effort that no one, it turned out, liked: the Bush-Kennedy-McCain immigration reform bill. After a general uproar over the bill, it was killed.

McCain was undeterred. His failed efforts to provide amnesty for undocumented workers became a center piece in his appeals to the Hispanic vote. McCain’s attempt failed, and failed dramatically. McCain lost the Hispanic vote 67 to 32 percent in the general election.

The root cause of this failure is that the undocumented immigration issue isn’t as important to Latino voters as the media, liberals and the neoconservative GOP strategists think it is. This is borne out by Arizona Proposition 200 of 2004, that proposed cutting off social services to undocumented immigrants. It won by a landslide, and did so with a surprising 47 percent of Hispanic support. In 2008 the Pew Hispanic Center found that only 31 percent of Hispanic voters thought immigration was an “extremely important” issue for Obama to address. In fact, immigration was listed as the sixth most important issue to Hispanic voters.

A constant diatribe about immigration reform is not going to serve the Republican Party in 2012 in its bid for the White House. Comprehensive immigration reforms that entail amnesty or a weakening of existing immigration restraints are not overwhelmingly supported by Hispanic voters, and are vehemently opposed by most other American voters. In poll after poll it is revealed that an overwhelming majority of American voters oppose amnesty, licenses for undocumented workers, and that they support measures to recognize English as mandatory for state agencies and as the official language of the United States.

So what are the issues it would behoove the Republicans to embrace this election cycle that can help them make gains with Hispanic voters?

It is no mere coincidence that Hispanic voters in Florida have swung away from support for Obama these last few weeks. The majority of Latino voters are Catholic, and this accounts for much of the dwindling support for Obama amongst Hispanic voters in Florida. Catholic values of life, subsidiarity, and family are still strong among Hispanics, who, while perhaps falling away from many of the basic tenants of their Catholic faith, still possess a strong filial affection and sentimental attachment to the Catholic Church.

On January 20th the Obama Administration’s Health and Human Services stated that there will be no extension of the religious exemption, which would exempt Catholic dioceses, hospitals, parochial schools, and colleges and universities from having to pay for artificial contraception and abortifacient drugs as part of their health care coverage of employees. A slew of Catholic bishops have gone public with their vehement opposition to this ruling from the HHS, calling it the “contraception mandate”, and they are telling their flocks that this is a “blatant and bigoted” attack on their First Amendment rights and the Catholic Church. This strong rhetoric is not being lost on the Hispanic community that is already regarding this Administration as the Anti-Catholic Administration.

Latino voters would flock to a GOP candidate that speaks to what is important to them, and what are important to Hispanic voters are the social issues. The most important issue for Hispanic voters, per the 2008 Pew Hispanic Center poll, was the family. They are more inclined to oppose gay “marriage” and their deep Catholic roots incline them to be Pro-Life. Education was the second most important issue among Latinos. They are more likely to support school voucher programs, and greater freedom in educating their children. If a Republican candidate were to break free on these issues and articulate them in a truly conservative manner, highlighting the conservation of life and the family, as well as the integrity of ethnic communities (a slogan that worked well for Jimmy Carter in 1976), then that candidate would blow away Bush II’s 2004 forty percent Hispanic vote. Only by articulating the conservative view on life, family and education can a GOP candidate take advantage of the growing disillusionment of Hispanic voters with President Barack Obama.

But will a GOP candidate emerge to do this? If this week in Florida is any indication, it is exceedingly doubtful. The war of words between the Gingrich and Romney camps reveals a GOP still deeply mired in the largely irrelevant rhetoric of immigration reform. The neoconservative, GOP establishment strategists (such as Carl Rove, Mitch Daniels, Elliot Abrams, etc.) do not support social conservatism because they aren’t social conservatives. They will point to a “Pro-Life” voting record to maintain their Pro-Life base, but they will neither trumpet the social issues as a rallying cry for ethnic conservatives, nor will they endorse a candidate that will do so. The neoconservative, GOP establishment is shooting conservatives in the back. Their worn out and failed “Hispanic Strategy” that focuses on wildly unpopular immigration reforms and ignores the social issues that Hispanics would be willing to rally around will cost the GOP dearly in this upcoming election.

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