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GOP seeks ‘messengers’ to Hispanics; point man lays out work to be done

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2013

In the wake of the 2012 election, the Republican Party needs to recruit new messengers in the states to reach out to Hispanic voters, recruit minority candidates and carry the party's message of limited government to "a community that is understandably skeptical," the GOP's point man for bolstering the party at the state level said in an interview Tuesday.

J. Christopher Jankowski, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), said the election showed the party badly needs to broaden its appeal among Hispanic voters on both the national and state levels, and "shamelessly" promote the Hispanics within its ranks.

"We believe that the right messenger can break through and can be heard on our platform, our principles," Mr. Jankowski told editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

As part of that effort, Mr. Jankowski said the RSLC has tapped Govs. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada -- two of the party's most high-profile Hispanic leaders -- to lead the group's "Future Majority Caucus," which aims to pull more women and minority voters into the GOP fold with a focus on down-ballot races.

"We believe that it is an amazing dynamic when you hear Gov. Martinez talk about issues facing the Hispanic community in New Mexico vs. me," Mr. Jankowski said. "We may say the same thing, but she has credibility, and it is just that affinity connection that people have with someone from their own community."

The new outreach effort will be overseen by RSLC Chairman Ed Gillespie, who served as a top adviser on Mitt Romney's unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign.

Mr. Jankowski said he is optimistic that the latest effort of the RSLC, which spent $27 million in the 2011-2012 election cycle, will pay dividends over the long haul and said the group has a proven track record of helping elect Republicans. While the national GOP ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan lost, and Democrats gained seats in both the Senate and House in 2012, the party fared better at the state level: There are still more Republican governors and lieutenant governors than Democrats, and Republicans control the majority of state legislative chambers across the country.

Mr. Jankowski said his group played a hand in flipping the attorney general seats in Montana and West Virginia into the Republican column. He said the group also helped Republicans defend their House majority in the Michigan statehouse, pick up seats in Pennsylvania and regain the majority in the Wisconsin Senate.

"We feel like if you are looking for positive outcomes, look to the state legislatures. Right now, 53 percent of Americans are represented by a governor and a Republican legislature. Regardless of what happened at the top of the ticket we made gains in five states that Obama won," he said -- New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin.

But he also said the group fell short of meeting some its goals in key Western states, where Mr. Obama rode to victory in large part due to his huge edge among Hispanic voters.

"We ran into a buzz saw of turnout, in Colorado, in Nevada and New Mexico, of voters that our data showed were not likely to vote and the Obama machine got them to vote," Mr. Jankowski said. "We can do better and it starts with our relationship with the Hispanic community well before there's an election."

Exit polls showed Mr. Romney won 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 election. Four years earlier, Arizona Sen. John McCain secured 31 percent of the vote in losing to Mr. Obama. President George W. Bush, by contrast, won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in his re-election win over Sen. John Kerry in 2004.

Since the election, some congressional Republicans have signaled that they are serious about reforming the nation's broken immigration system.

Mr. Jankowski said that he would like to see Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform, as long as it is something a majority of the party can live with. But he said, his job is not to dictate what that policy will be.

"If you asked any of our Republican attorneys general, our [legislative] speakers, any of the leaders associated with the RSLC you would get probably dozens of different variations of answers" about how to fix the system, he said. "We are not going to step into that breach and tell them what they ought to think. We see it as a strategic priority, though, to perform better, and what we can do is go out and find the next [Florida Sen.] Marco Rubio, go out and find the next Susana Martinez, and put them on that escalator to higher office."

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