On reason Republicans are buzzing about Jeb Bush’s potential run is his record with Hispanics. In 1998 he won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote and 57 percent in 2002. Likewise Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) drew 55 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2010 and 44 percent of the female vote, although less than 10 percent of the African American vote. Moving to Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has done well with Hispanic voters, most recently nabbing 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2010. He won only 11 percent of African Americans but women by a 53 to 45 percent margin. There were no exit polls for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in 2012, but estimates put his share of the Hispanic vote around 30 percent. One of the big pluses for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2013 was his large vote totals with women (57 percent), blacks (21 percent) and Hispanics (51 percent), but critics question if these will hold up in the wake of the bridge scandal.
The percentage of Hispanic voters was so low in 2008, 2010 and 2012 in states like Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Indiana that one can’t measure the percentage potential 2016 contenders captured. Republicans in these states did poorly with African American voters ranging from 8 (for Ohio Gov. John Kasich) to 14 percent (for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence).
In short, a lot of potential 2016 candidates have no record of attracting minority voters. In some cases their states have so few minorities they never had the opportunity to gain votes that were significant to record. In more diverse states Pence was the most successful. Outside of Texas, Florida and New Jersey there is no evidence potential 2016 contenders have the ability to pull in minority voters. That may change, certainly. We will have new data in November to assess the minority and female support for candidates on the ballot including Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. For others presidential polling closer to the start of the primaries will be useful in assessing which candidate and which message plays best.
Immigration reform may be the key to increasing GOP appeal among Hispanics and other ethnic groups. Candidates who voted against immigration reform and preach an anti-government message may find it hard going. Potential candidates other than Ted Cruz have been more receptive to comprehensive immigration reform.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is walking a fine line. He is still hewing to his anti-government message while trying to court minorities and indicate his openness to immigration reform, even though he voted against the Senate immigration bill. (Now he says he voted against the bill because it offered too few visas, but at the time his stated reason was failure to pass a provision requiring Congress to vote on whether borders were secure.) During the Senate immigration fight Christie, Walker, and other GOP governors indicated their approval for immigration reform.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (the best performer with African Americans outside New Jersey) also was a vigorous proponent of conservative immigration reform in the House. (“Pence, a rising star in the House, is suggesting a temporary worker program based on a database run by private industry. And unlike the leading plan in the Senate and the blueprint sketched by Bush, his Border Integrity and Immigration Reform Act would require all applicants to leave the country first. Pence tweaks a phrase from Bush’s address to the nation by calling the compromise a REAL rational middle ground.”)
With Christie’s fate up in the air it will behoove possible 2016 contenders to demonstrate a real record of recruiting nontraditional Republican voters. If not, the 2016 contenders from New Jersey, Florida and Texas will have the best argument that they are proven vote-getters outside the traditional GOP base.