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Washington Post: “Republicans look to rebuild traction with Hispanic voters”

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GOPLast week we argued that Republicans are facing a major fork in the road on immigration. It’s been a long time coming, as you can see here.

Peter Slevin of the Washington Post now reports on GOP efforts to reach Latinos, in “Republicans look to rebuild their traction with Hispanic voters:’

AUSTIN — Henry Bonilla, a Texas Republican whose district ran along the Mexican border, won seven straight elections to the House by relying on retail politics in Hispanic communities where GOP candidates had rarely bothered to tread.

He thrived in Congress and co-chaired the two Republican National Conventions that nominated George W. Bush. In a period when the party sought to telegraph a vision of diversity, however spotty its record, the effort yielded Hispanic votes in Texas and beyond. That was then.

After back-to-back hammerings in the 2006 and 2008 elections, the GOP is trying to figure out how it slid so far behind with Hispanic voters. With their traditional white-male base shrinking, Republican strategists talk with increasing urgency about wooing Hispanics, who are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population and who vote mostly Democratic.

“If you don’t go out and bring more Hispanics to our party, the math isn’t there to win, no matter what the other side does,” said Bonilla, who has argued the case in one-on-one meetings with Republican leaders in Congress. “If they’re too blind to recognize that, it’s their own selves doing them in.”

Bonilla should know. He lost in 2006 to another Hispanic candidate, a Democrat.

The way immigration has been handled by most Republicans has badly damaged the GOP brand.  And while immigration is not the number one issue for most Latino voters, it is a defining issue.  So much so that an overwhelming 87% of respondents in a 2009 Bendixen poll said they would not consider voting for a candidate who was in favor of forcing most of the undocumented population to leave the country and only 23% trusted congressional Republicans to “do the right thing on the immigration issue.”