Gingrich keeps up Latino outreach as other candidates work elsewhere
Gingrich’s outreach to Latinos may not win him this election, but they could serve as a valuable lesson for the Republican Party. (Flickr: Gage Skidmore)
While the Republican presidential primary has largely shifted its focus away from Latinos, one candidate is still campaigning in the community: Newt Gingrich.
The former House Speaker is struggling in the polls, but he’s hoping to revive his flagging campaign by cobbling together support in large, delegate-rich primary states with the help Latino voters, a constituency he’s long looked to woo.
While Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum campaigned last week in states like Michigan and Arizona, the next two states on the primary calendar, Gingrich traveled to California. In between fundraising jaunts, he squeezed in a visit to the heavily-Latino town of South El Monte, where Latino supporters organized an event at a Mexican restaurant attended by over 200 people.
And though he’s not personally campaigning in Arizona, another large Latino state, he launched an English-language television ad there that targets Latino voters. The 30-second spot hits President Obama for failing to deliver on promises he made to the Latino community.
Well before this week, Gingrich held Latino outreach events in early primary states with very small Latino populations, like Iowa and New Hampshire.
“Our philosophy has been that Newt’s message resonates tremendously with the Latino community. He understands that Latinos are amongst the hardest hit in this economy. He understands they are pro-entrepreneurship, pro-life, pro-religion, pro-family, pro-immigration,” says Gingrich’s national Hispanic inclusion director Sylvia Garcia.
According to Garcia, the campaign has a Latino leader in each state who works with the state political director to get out the vote, especially in religious communities.
In California alone, Gingrich has 15 Latino co-chairs led by state director Teresa Hernandez, according to Garcia.
What explains Gingrich’s outreach to Latinos?
Newt has long said that appealing to Latino voters, the nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc, is an important factor in winning elections. But as evidenced by the campaign schedules of Santorum and Romney, Latinos don’t play a major role in Republican primaries (save for Florida).
But that might not be the case this year in California, where Gingrich says he can revive his campaign in the state’s June primary (when 165 delegates are up for grabs). While few Latinos in the Golden State are Republican, California’s new GOP primary rules mean that Latinos could boost Newt’s chances of winning delegates there. Here’s more from the Los Angeles Times:
Starting this year, said Gingrich’s California political director, Michael Schroeder, the state’s Republican presidential delegates will not be awarded on a statewide winner-takes-all basis as they have in the past.
Nor will they be awarded proportionally.
Instead, they will be awarded on a winner-takes-all basis by congressional district. That means that three delegates will be up for grabs in each of the state’s 53 congressional districts. Even the most Democratic-leaning district will offer up as many delegates as the most conservative district. (Which is perhaps why Gingrich held a campaign event Monday at a Mexican restaurant in South El Monte, smack dab in a heavily Latino, traditionally Democratic congressional district.)
And though Gingrich is a long shot to win the nomination at this stage in the campaign, he appears to be laying the groundwork for an effort to appeal to Latinos in a general election setting (see the target of his Arizona ad).
Will it work?
While Gingrich has done more grassroots campaigning in the Latino community than any other GOP candidate, he’s struggling to regain the momentum his campaign had after winning the South Carolina primary last month.
Gingrich lost to Romney in Florida, including among Latinos (mostly Cubans and Puerto Ricans), who played a significant role deciding the outcome of the primary. The former Speaker also trails Obama badly among Latino voters nationwide, the majority of whom are Mexican-American, 70-22 percent.
Even though he has said he would campaign all the way until the Republican National Convention in late August, it’s possible he won’t be a viable nominee by the time California’s contest comes around.
And Newt, who’s known for his combustible tongue, has also run into hot water when talking about minority groups during the campaign. He was criticized for calling Obama the “food stamp president” and he labeled Romney “anti-immigrant” in a Spanish-language radio ad in Florida. While some in the Latino community cheered Newt for that remark, it backfired in the Sunshine State.
Gingrich has also been attacked by his opponents who say that his Latino outreach efforts are disingenuous, citing his 2007 inference that Spanish is “the language of living in a ghetto.” While Newt has the most moderate immigration stance in the GOP field, he’s still against the full DREAM Act, which is popular among Latinos nationwide. Others have been nonplussed about his efforts in California.
On the contrary, Garcia says the campaign is receiving “waves of support” from Latinos due to his message on jobs, immigration and religious values.
“He is the only candidate that offers a humane approach to our immigration crisis, knowing well that the first step is securing the border,” she said. “During his time in Congress he had a 98% pro-life voting record. He understands the war this administration is claiming on Christianity.”
But despite his past missteps and mild momentum, Gingrich’s efforts to court Latinos should not be harumphed by party elders, who have talked a big game about reaching Latinos.
“When we first started doing this, reaching Hispanic voters was something that was sort of nice to do,” Hispanic Leadership Fund president Mario H. Lopez said at CPAC. “This is no longer the case. This is not something that’s nice to do. This is an absolute necessity.”