The Republican Party has spent the last two years trying to figure out what went wrong in 2012, and what needs to happen for the party to retake the White House. This is a complex question, and one that doesn’t have an easy answer.
One startling fact that has crept into the consciousness of many Republicans is that Mitt Romney received only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. Others have made the point that even if he had done much better with Hispanic voters, the former governor of Massachusetts still would not have defeated President Obama. Part of the problem is that too many Republicans stayed home in 2012.
Even if we agree that there’s not an easy solution to fix the problem of future competitiveness in national elections, we can also agree it would be a good thing for the GOP to expand the party. We can do that by taking demographic changes seriously. Otherwise it will be next to impossible in the next few decades for Republicans to win the presidency.
If the GOP is going to compete everywhere, from the local level up to the presidential, it must do a better job of outreach to Hispanic and Asian-American voters, among other groups.
Some GOP lawmakers are taking this kind of outreach seriously. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, whose reelection I’m managing, has tasked his campaign team with making inroads with Hispanic and Asian-American voters. He wants these voting groups to support the GOP, not just in 2014 but also in 2016 and beyond.
Here’s the tricky part. Republicans must do this while maintaining our conservative principles and offering solutions to real world problems that affect everyone—jobs, education, transportation, and taxes. We have found that Republicans can connect with Hispanic and Asian-American voters when we talk about common values, like the idea of upward mobility and the American Dream.
We get a very positive response when we talk about school choice and giving parents better educational options for their children. If we don’t see eye-to-eye on some issues, that’s okay. We just need to focus on common values and issues where we do agree. Hispanic and Asian-American outreach will not work unless it’s sincere, believable, credible, measurable, and consistent.
People have to trust you before they’ll listen to your sales pitch. The GOP cannot fake it; this has to be a real effort. The voters can certainly tell the difference.
Here’s the good news: There are a number of elected officials, campaigns, and party leaders doing this type of work quite well. Across the country, Republicans are taking the first steps to try different approaches, to see what works and what doesn’t, and to be humble enough to learn along the way.
Cornyn’s campaign, for instance, has dedicated huge resources toward this effort, and we’re spending the time and money it takes to do it well. This is a long-term approach where we’ll show up during election years and non-election years. People will start to get used to seeing the senator’s staff at all kinds of community events year round. The Republican Party of Texas is committed to fully funding and staffing its outreach program, and we’ve worked very closely with them to identify opportunities and coordinate efforts. We’ve had some great successes so far.
Our campaign has visited the poorest Texans in border-area colonias. The senator himself paid a visit there this summer and spent time with struggling families. We have celebrated the contributions of Hispanic veterans in Travis County. And we have worked with community leaders on all kinds of issues and projects, large and small, around the state. Our staff has celebrated important holidays, festivals, life milestones and cultural gatherings with Texans of diverse backgrounds. Our campaign has attended naturalization ceremonies for new citizens, celebrated the Holi festival in Fort Bend County with 8,000 Indian-Americans and reached out to hundreds of media outlets catering to audiences in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Hindi.
Our digital outreach effort has also been an integral part of our overall strategy. We’ve been experimenting with some innovative companies that are the cutting edge of Republican politics right now. For example, we’ve been working with Engage, VoterTrove, CampaignGrid, and NationBuilder to target our voters and figure out the best ways to engage them, while measuring our success. We have overlaid the voter file in Texas with Facebook and are running ads in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese to registered voters. We are utilizing the Google ad network as well as purchasing online ads directly on websites that cater to Hispanic and Asian-American audiences in Texas.
This fall we will start airing our Spanish language ads on Univision, Telemundo, and countless Spanish radio stations throughout Texas. These paid media efforts help us reach mass audiences with the same messages that we are using at grassroots events in the Hispanic and Asian-American communities.
We’re working hard to earn their trust, and to prove to them time and again that we are serious about their concerns, hopes and dreams. We have utilized both paid and volunteer door-knockers and community engagers to start conversations with Hispanic and Asian-American voters throughout the state. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Many folks say that they’ve never had a Republican candidate or campaign come to their door or call them on the phone. Others say they had a very different opinion about Republicans before they met our staff or the senator. But it’ll take thousands of encounters like these to slowly change the tide and bring more people into the Republican Party.
We cannot just go right up to folks who have no personal connection to the party and ask them to vote for a straight Republican ticket. It will not work that way. We need to develop personal relationships, work with community leaders who lend us their credibility, and spend our resources translating our literature and ads into Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and other languages.
For example, about 65 percent of Hispanics in Texas consume information in English and Spanish. By offering campaign materials and innovative digital advertising in Spanish, we not only communicate our message more effectively, we show that we respect Hispanics and their culture.
All Americans have ancestors that came from somewhere else and spoke a different language or had unique customs and traditions from the dominant culture. While we must encourage assimilation and becoming American, an important part of that process is welcoming folks along the way and making them feel at home. This will only encourage them to love their country and consider voting for a political party that truly understands how the melting pot works to benefit everyone.
When Republicans talk about Hispanic outreach in particular, we often end up debating the various approaches to immigration reform. This is an inevitable question that arises whether we’re talking among ourselves, to Hispanic voters, or media outlets like Univision and Telemundo.
In Texas, border security and immigration reform are dominant topics of public policy debates. Given the recent humanitarian crisis at the border, and the heated debates over which approach Republicans should take on immigration reform, this is an area that’s essential for us to navigate successfully.
Republicans can take a number of different approaches on immigration, as long as our rhetoric is compassionate and doesn’t alienate Hispanics. We can be for securing the border first, as long as we don’t make all immigrants feel like they’re under attack. We need to separate the good folks who want to make a better life for themselves, from the bad folks like violent drug traffickers.
Polling conducted by Univision shows that a majority of Hispanic voters in Texas support securing the border first. The more complicated question is what to do with the millions of people here illegally. Hispanic voters are more divided on that issue.
If a Republican candidate has a position that most Hispanic voters disagree with, that’s okay. The candidate can disagree without being disagreeable. Voters will respect that and appreciate a thoughtful conversation that includes a sincere, humanitarian concern for people. They don’t expect to agree with any candidate or party 100 percent of the time on all issues. We just need to show that we’re serious about starting the conversation with them.
As we approach Election Day, we plan to focus our messages on 2.5 million Hispanic and Asian-American voters throughout the state. We’ll be able to know the messages that resonate with subgroups and individuals through the work we have been doing with our various vendors. The final GOTV push will consist of a combination of messages via email, Facebook, online ads, phone calls, door knocks and, of course, TV and radio ads with a positive message about Cornyn.
We’re especially excited about the targeted sharing app for Facebook that Engage has developed for our campaign. This will help us deliver these messages from the right person to the right voter, based on personal relationships—something the Obama campaign did masterfully well in both 2008 and 2012. We’ll engage our supporters within these communities to act as surrogates for the campaign—posting messages online, sending out emails, organizing phone banks and neighborhood walks, and appearing on Spanish and Vietnamese language TV and radio shows to encourage voters to pull the lever for Cornyn.
Reaching Hispanic and Asian-American voters isn’t complicated. All we have to do is pick up the phone, knock on their doors, and show up in their neighborhoods seeking to build long-lasting friendships. Yes, we still need to invest significant resources in TV, radio, and online ads, but those ads have to be reinforced with thousands of real encounters where someone from a Republican campaign made a personal connection.
There’s nothing more powerful than a personal connection in politics, and if we get started sooner rather than later, we’ll be successful at earning the votes of Hispanics and Asian-Americans. So go ahead and strike up a conversation. You may be surprised to find out where it leads.
Brendan Steinhauser is Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s (R) campaign manager. Brendan is a partner in Steinhauser Strategies with his wife Randan.