It’s been nearly 30 years since Ronald Reagan captured 45% of the California Latino vote on his way to a landslide victory in the 1984 race for governor.
Three anti-immigration ballot initiatives later—along with a Tea Party revolt and a parade of insensitive Republican politicians on the state and national stage—California’s GOP is schizophrenically looking around for a way to woo Latino’s back to their party.
Last week, national GOP officials targeted a $10 million outreach campaign at California and 16 other states, with the hope of reconnecting with Latino voters they have long scorned. The Los Angeles Times listened in to the pitch from Jennifer Sevilla Korn, the Republican National Committee's deputy political director for Hispanic initiatives, at a luncheon in Santa Ana. “What’s different about our effort this time is we're starting early, not just six months before an election, and we’re going to stay even after the election is over,” she said.
It could be argued that the GOP in California already started its outreach last week at its annual state convention, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. A vocal Tea Party contingent dominated much of the proceedings, and when they weren’t glorying in the federal government shutdown, they were bashing Obamacare, which is favored by 63% of Latinos in California, and touting policies like “Voter ID,” which are anathema to minorities.
The party adopted a resolution that calls on the state Legislature to enact a law requiring voters to identify themselves as registered whether they vote in person or by mail. Restrictive voter ID laws are all the rage in Republican-controlled states, where they often need vote suppression and gerrymandered districts to maintain an electoral edge.
The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Texas and North Carolina over new electoral laws that the Obama administration says will disenfranchise minorities. The North Carolina lawsuit was filed about 10 days ago. That state wants to: require residents to show a photo ID at polling places before casting their ballots; eliminate the first seven days of early voting; eliminate same-day voter registration during the early-voting period; and prohibit counting provisional ballots cast by voters in their home county but outside their home voting precinct.
The state convention in Anaheim did feature a panel discussion on “Grassroots 101: Latino Engagement” and a “Latino Elected Officials” roundtable, while former Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado campaigned for his party’s gubernatorial nomination. But Maldonado was overshadowed by another candidate, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Tea Party favorite and former Minuteman border patrol leader, who loudly denounced his political foes and touted his candidacy—with a bullhorn.
Winning over Latinos will be an uphill climb. The GOP’s $10 million will be used to establish an infrastructure to coordinate Latino outreach and develop grass-roots support, but some observers have suggested the money might be better spent supplying earplugs to Latino voters.