Hispanic and Latino voters helped give Republicans some of their biggest gains in the last election, and national Republicans are investing big in making relationships in the growing portion of the electorate ahead of the midterm elections and 2022.
In a celebration of Hispanic heritage month, which runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the Republican National Committee is opening several "Hispanic community centers" and by the end of the month will have them in Doral, Florida; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Texas locations in McAllen, Laredo, and San Antonio. It marks the earliest in an election cycle that the RNC has ever opened these types of centers, and it is part of the party's multimillion-dollar minority outreach effort.
"We're going have a place where not only we can convey our message to them, but we will also be able to listen to them and find out what is it that they expect from us from the party from their elected officials," said Jaime Florez, the RNC's Hispanic communications director.
Like any political field office, the centers will be focused on recruiting and training volunteers, registering voters, and turning out voters during election season. But they aim to make the offices a more human, home base.
Danielle Alvarez, an RNC spokeswoman, said that the office spaces could be offered for a study hall or community program or a venue to watch soccer games.
Hispanic and Latino voters are not a monolith, but national Republicans think that in the diverse demographic run the common threads of appreciation for job opportunities, skepticism of big-spending government making big promises, and valuing safety and security — a contrast from far-left Democrats calling to defund the police amid riots and failing to secure a porous Southern border.
A May National Republican Senatorial Committee poll of Hispanic voters on battleground states earlier this year found that 63% valued capitalism over socialism, and 50% said that policies presented as helping all minorities actually end up hurting Hispanic families. The border crisis and surge of illegal immigration makes 48% less likely to vote Democrat, it found.
For Florez, who fled Colombia, and Alvarez, who is of Cuban descent, those principles are personal.
Florez was a radio journalist in Colombia and was very critical of peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC, the guerrilla revolutionary group that has been involved in Colombian conflict for decades.
"There was a time when in a lapse of 10 years, over 100 journalists were killed," Florez said. When a job offer provided the opportunity to move to the U.S., he seized it. The relief that comes with a sense of security is what stood out to him.
"When I was leaving home in the morning, I gave my daughter a kiss, and I knew that I was going to come back in the afternoon to give her another. That's something I didn't feel when I was working in Colombia," Florez said. "There were bombs everywhere. There was violence is everywhere."
Alvarez, whose parents fled Fidel Castro's communist regime in Cuba, said that her story is not unique in south Florida. Her grandparents put her aunt, still a child, on a plane to the U.S. by herself in order to avoid her being sent to work in an agricultural labor camp. But then her mother was sent to the camp instead.
"She said that they slept in bunks with dirt floors that were, like, four girls deep, and they would do hard labor all day, and they would be indoctrinated," Alvarez said. "They go home to see their families once a month. My mom was eight years old."
Bridging generational ideological differences among Hispanic voters and effective communication remain challenges, Alvarez and Florez said, which they hope the community centers will help address.
Republicans have seen a steady increase in support from Hispanic and Latino voters over the last decade. Presidential exit polls show that Mitt Romney got 27% support from the demographic in 2012, former President Donald Trump got 29% in 2016, and 32% in 2020 — less than the at least 40% vote share that the Trump campaign predicted (which was former President George W. Bush's share in 2004), but still showing a promising trend for Republicans.
Some of the most striking shifts came in Florida, where the Latino vote shifted in Republicans' favor by 10 points from 2016 to 2020. That was a factor in Republicans flipping two key South Florida House seats, putting Reps. Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar in office.
The trend appears to be continuing into 2021.
This summer, Republican Javier Villalobos won a mayoral election in McAllen, Texas, which is 85% Hispanic. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton won the border county where McAllen sits by 40%.
In Virginia's gubernatorial race, a recent Emerson College poll found the race between Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe in a dead heat — but Youngkin with 55% support among Hispanic voters.
The community center model is not just aimed at Hispanic voters. The RNC has also opened an Asian-Pacific American community center in Orange County, California, and a black community center in Cleveland, Ohio.
President Joe Biden's flagging approval ratings don't hurt, either.
"Hispanics, minority communities, Americans overall are kind of rejecting the failed policies of Joe Biden and turning toward freedom and opportunity — that's the alternative that's presented by the Republican Party," Alvarez said.
Original Location: RNC invests in Hispanic outreach as it courts key demographic ahead of 2022
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