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Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, shown in May, is trying to reach out to Latinos with a new website and a forum this week.
In last month's election, Latino voters sided solidly with the Democrats. That continued a decades-long trend, but it's one that is increasingly worrisome to Republicans.
In one of several outreach efforts, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich has started a website called The Americano, which sponsored a two-day forum in Washington, D.C., this week. Gingrich called it a place for conservatives and others to exchange ideas from a Latino perspective.
"Margaret Thatcher used to say, 'First, you win the argument, then you win the vote.' Well, in order to win the argument, you have to have an argument," Gingrich said as he opened the forum on Thursday. "And we have to have a space in which anybody who wants to can pile on. Bring ideas. Talk about concepts."
Gingrich's efforts are part of an increasingly aggressive GOP push for Latino votes. Conservative think tanks are starting Spanish-language blogs. More sessions like Gingrich's are likely, as well.
The Latino Vote
A look a how the Latino vote has broken down in recent elections, according to national exit polls.
The numbers make clear what's motivating the outreach campaign: By the year 2050, Latinos are projected to make up 25 percent of the U.S. population. In 2008, candidate Barack Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote. And in this year's big GOP sweep, Democrats still got 60 percent of the Latino vote.
About 350 people attended the forum sponsored by The Americano. They came from businesses, universities and the world of politics.
Lionel Sosa, a veteran ad executive, has worked on seven Republican presidential campaigns. "I believe that we are missing a great opportunity," Sosa said. "We as Republicans are not really emphasizing what brings us together, and that's conservative values: love of the country. Love of family. Personal responsibility. Hard work. Optimism. Those are the things that we should be communicating to Latinos, and we're doing that very poorly."
Most of the conference attendees called themselves conservatives, and as Republicans, they are in the minority within the Latino community.
"In being a conservative, I find myself that I also disconnect tremendously with where, at least right now, the Republican Party, or large parts of the Republican Party, are," said Gustavo Bujanda, a vice president at a Dallas public relations firm.
He was talking about immigration, and the tough language Republicans often use when debating the issue. Former Colorado congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo's name came up a lot at the conference.
This, from a speech during his 2008 run for the GOP presidential nomination, is vintage Tancredo: "We see our communities turning into what Theodore Roosevelt called 'polyglot boardinghouses,' made up of immigrants who refuse to assimilate and refuse to speak English. These candidates will start using answers with phrases like 'comprehensive solution' when they're talking about immigration and mean 'amnesty.' "
A screen shot of former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingich's site The Americano.
A screen shot of former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingich's site The Americano. The Americano
Bujanda says such words, though not representative of Republicans as a whole, send a message about the party — as does the controversial Arizona immigration law.
"When I hear members of the extreme right of the Republican Party speak in the language that they do about immigration," he says, "I, frankly, take offense — because there's something about me that they don't like."
So, Bujanda says, in addition to outreach to Latino voters, there needs to be outreach to the party itself.
The conference featured a lot of such dialogue, during formal sessions, but also in hallways and over meals.
And despite the talk of making a positive case for Latinos to embrace Republicans whose core ideals match theirs, there was also plenty of frustration that Democrats are viewed so much more favorably by Latino voters.
As Sosa put it: "I don't think that the Democrats are doing anything right. They certainly haven't delivered on the promise of creating more jobs for Latinos. They have not delivered on the promise of bringing immigration reform up to the forefront. They had a sitting president; they had both houses of Congress. They could have done something, but they did nothing."
This conference was just one part of the Republicans' outreach to Latinos. It's a long-term project — though the party would like to see some dividends as early as 2012.