Two things are true of Republicans’ courtship of minorities at the moment.
1. There are more prominent minority lawmakers in the GOP than in the Democratic Party.
2. Republicans still do very poorly among minority voters.
Hoping to do resolve that conundrum, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) has launched a Future Majority Caucus, co-chaired by Govs. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, to expand minority recruitment.
“Given the changing demographics in our nation, it’s critical for Republicans to perform better among these groups and increase support for diverse candidates,” said RSLC spokeswoman Jill Bader. “This will help us win elections and thus gain Republican majorities in the future.”
But even the electoral pasts of the Future Majority Caucus’ leaders suggest just how hard it is for any Republican candidate — including a minority — to win a large number of votes among minority communities.
Sandoval won 33 percent of the Latino vote in 2010. That year, Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who ran an ad featuring mugshots of border-crossers and defended it by telling a group of Hispanic students that they “look Asian,” won 30 percent of the Latino vote.
Martinez fared slightly better, taking 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in New Mexico’s 2010 election, according to an election eve poll from Latino Decisions. (There was no New Mexico exit poll in 2010). That’s better than in 2006, when exit polls found only 20 percent of Hispanic voters backed Republican John Dendahl over Hispanic Gov. Bill Richardson. Nationally, 38 percent of the Hispanic vote would be pretty great for Republicans. It was Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign target number in 2012. His actual share of the Hispanic vote: 27 percent.
Outside of Martinez and Sandoval, there is some evidence that Hispanic GOP candidates can have marginally better results than a white GOP nominee in winning the Latino vote.
In Florida’s 2010 election, exit polls show that Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio took 55 percent of the Latino vote, thanks largely to huge support from Cuban Americans. But gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott, a white man with little of Rubio’s personal charisma, still took 50 percent of Cuban -Americans, suggesting that year’s electorate in Florida was simply more Republican.
In 2012, exit polling showed that Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz took 36 percent of the Hispanic vote, outperforming Romney there by six points. (Again, there is no exit poll data.) Houston Chronicle columnist Charles Kuffner looked at the vote in five heavily Latino counties and found that Cruz consistently outperformed Romney.
Individual minority candidates could help Republicans maintain footholds in changing demographic territory, such as in Florida. Simply fielding more minority candidates, like immigration reform, won’t be a cure-all for the GOP. In a party desperate to tap into minority communities, however, it’s a badly needed first step.