How to Win the Latino Vote That Will Elect the Next President

Republicans Have Fences to Mend With Hispanic Community

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The Time magazine cover story "Yo Decido. Why Latinos will pick the next President" might seem shocking to some, but according to at least one well-respected political consultant, Latinos have already picked one president: W.

Chiqui Cartagena
Chiqui Cartagena

In a panel discussion addressing this very same question during last fall's Advertising Week, Lionel Sosa, a longtime Republican consultant who has worked on eight presidential campaigns, starting with Ronald Reagan in 1980, proclaimed that Latinos had already elected a U.S. President ... twice! First, in 2000 when the difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush in Florida was 535 votes and Bush won 6,000 more Latino votes than Gore.Then again in 2004, when Bush won an unprecedented 44% of the Latino vote.

Everyone in politics knows that winning elections is a numbers game, and that in the end this presidential election will depend on 15 key swing states where, according to Jeb Bush's op-ed in The Washington Post,"Hispanic voters will represent the margin of victory."

In fact, Jorge Ramos' piece in Time magazine's "Yo Decido" issue says that no Republican has won the White House without garnering at least one-third of the Hispanic vote. And a poll conducted by Univision (my employer) in November showed that 52% of Hispanic voters are potentially up for grabs. You see, most people who are not well-versed in the Hispanic community think we don't care about politics. Nothing could be further from the truth. Voter participation among registered Hispanic voters is 84%!

I've been following the Republican primaries with keen interest, not because I am a political junkie, but because Latinos have been used as political red meat in what is still a bruising Republican primary race. In spite of repeated warnings from their own party, the Republican candidates have all been particularly negative with regard to some of the issues that matter to Latino voters, like immigration reform and the Dream Act. And if they think that they can reverse course after the primary and -- as Newt Gingrich said at a Univision candidate forum -- get more than 50% of the Hispanic vote, they have a lot of work to do.

Don't get me wrong -- both parties are doing a terrible job of reaching out to the Latino voter, and my biggest complaint is what are they waiting for to start fixing it? They need to start now, and speak to us in the language of our heart: Spanish.

So here's my advice, for free, to both parties: I believe the Obama team is missing a huge opportunity to start recapturing the hearts and minds of disillusioned Latinos ... right now. After Super Tuesday, I would start spending in all the swing states where Hispanics represent a significant amount of the electorate, saturating Spanish-language media with Obama's message. After the vitriol they've heard from the Republican side, this would go a long way, even though he hasn't delivered on all of his campaign promises. Show us what you have done for us.

As soon as the Republican candidate is selected -- and the sooner the better -- Republicans will need to start mending fences with Latino voters by carefully crafting messages that really speak to their conservative side. If the nominee is not clearly decided after Tuesday, I believe some of those Super PAC's would be better off preparing the eventual nominee's campaign by spending some of their billions to soften the tone the candidates have taken thus far. They need to remind Latinos that they are welcome to the party and that they, too, are "Republicans at heart, but just don't know it yet," as Reagan used to say.

Both parties are going to need a ton of help from crafty advertising agencies and political consultants who know not only how to connect emotionally with the Hispanic community but how to create those messages in Spanish. Don't wait until the conventions. You've got to start talking to the heart and minds of Latinos now. Now is when I am discussing politics at home with my family, and trust me, millions of other Latinos are, too!

Chiqui Cartagena is VP-corporate marketing for Univision Communications Inc. She is also the author of "Latino Boom! Everything You Need to Know to Grow Your Business in the U.S. Hispanic Market." Follow Chiqui on Twitter @chiquicartagena.

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