George W. is the high water mark for Republicans with Latinos these days; exit polls show he got 44 percent of their votes in his reelection race, though others have suggested its closer to 40 percent.
I dug up some exit poll numbers from 1998 to see how the younger Bush did with Latinos and other Democratic constituencies in his second race for Florida governor. He won that one -- 55 percent to 45 percent -- after losing four years earlier.
Bush did very, very well among Hispanics, beating the Democratic candidate, Buddy McKay, 61 to 38 percent among Latinos. That's a huge number. But keep in mind that in Florida, especially in 1998, the Latinos who were going to the polls were often conservative, with Cubans dominating the Latino vote. Nationally, Latino voters are increasingly more Democratic-leaning, with two-thirds having roots in Mexico.
Among women voters in 1998, Bush tied with his Democratic opponent; among African Americans, he notched 14 percent of that vote, also a good showing for a Republican.
This was four years after Bush said, "probably nothing," to a black woman who asked him during his first race for governor what he would do for African-American voters. In 1998, he apologized for taking African Americans for granted and more aggressively courted the black vote.
What about four years later when Bush got reelected? Unfortunately, there isn't a ton of great data from that year because there was a meltdown with the exit polling. But much of the data that are available show Bush doing much worse with black voters in 2002 (6 to 8 percent) and almost matching his margin with Hispanic voters (56 to 57 percent). (Bush was a big proponent of OneFlorida, which ended race-based affirmative action in November 1999, which explains why he took a hit with African American voters). As for Latino voters, one thing to keep in mind about is that they aren't a bloc and have trended Democratic in national elections, on the strength of younger Cubans and Puerto Ricans.
By way of comparison, here's a look at how Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) did this November with Latinos. Again, it's hard to compare candidate to candidate and year to year, but Scott's showing suggests a decline among Hispanics for Republicans in Florida, which matches the emergence of non-Cuban and younger Latinos in the state as a less persuadable voting demographic for the GOP.
Here's the thing about trying to transfer success (or failure) in a state race to a national race, particularly with so many years between Bush's races and 2016: It's hard. Here's a former GOP governor bragging about his election record to The Hill:
I know how to govern. It’s about developing relationships, building camaraderie, building trust. I don’t think you’ll find a Republican who got 49 percent of the African-American vote, as I did, in my reelection as governor. That had high Hispanic support. Those are things I think could be valuable to the party.
That was former Arkansas governor and possible 2016 candidate Mike Huckabee. Is there any reason to believe that in 2016 Huckabee would get anywhere close to 50 percent of the black vote or be that competitive for the Hispanic vote? Not really.
The 2016 GOP field is likely to be one of the most diverse ever, in terms of racial and ethnic background (but not gender.) Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is vying to be the Republican candidate most focused on race, but Bush has more of a track record, particularly with Latino voters. Like his brother (and unlike Mitt Romney and Rand Paul), he comes from a state with a big Latino and African American population, which means he has some experience campaigning for those constituencies. Which is why the passages on immigration reform in his forthcoming e-book will be read very closely.