While Texas Governor Rick Perry has a reputation as a strong conservative, his more moderate views on immigration reform might help Republicans attract Latino voters if he were to be the Republican nominee in November of 2012.
In 2001, Perry signed a bill in Texas, known as the DREAM Act, which allowed some undocumented college students to receive in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities.
“We must say to every child learning in a Texas classroom, ‘We don’t care where you come from, but where you are going, and we are going to do everything we can to help you get there,’” said Perry about the bill.
In 2010, after Arizona passed an immigration reform bill that was praised by many Republicans, Perry was critical of the new law and said he would not support similar legislation in Texas, stating, “It would not be the right direction for Texas.”
Perry also supports immigration reforms similar to former President George W. Bush's proposals (Bush was also Governor of Texas prior to Perry). While president, Bush tried to get immigration reforms passed that would have provided a path to citizenship for some undocumented workers in the U.S. after they paid a fine.
As the Republican nominee for president, Bush did well among Latino voters in both 2000 and 2004. In 2004, he received more than 40 percent of the Latino vote. Latinos, who are mostly Catholic and evangelical Christian, have high levels of religiosity and are more likely to hold conservative positions on abortion and homosexuality.
The Republican Party may also have an opportunity to attract Latino voters on the issues of reforming Social Security and Medicare in the next election. By burdening future generations with debt to maintain the current rates of growth in these programs, keeping Social Security and Medicare as they are benefits the elderly and hurts the young.
Democrats generally favor only modest changes to these programs while Republicans have shown more willingness to restructure the programs. Since Latinos in the U.S. are, on average, younger than the general population, Republicans may be able to mobilize Latinos on the issue of reforming Social Security and Medicare.
Republican defenses of free-market capitalism may also speak to some Latinos, especially those who are business owners.
However, Republicans would have some challenges, though, in seeking Latino votes. Among many Latinos, the Republican name has been tarnished by harsh rhetoric on immigration, according to Dee Dee Garcia Blase, founder of Somos Republicans. Somos Republicans was formed in 2009 to represent Latino Republicans who want immigration reforms and felt that there was too much anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from some circles within the Republican Party.
Blase said that among the current and potential field of candidates, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, former Utah Governor John Huntsman, and Perry would have the best chances of attracting Latino voters. Johnson and Huntsman, however, are struggling with low poll numbers and therefore are not viable candidates at the moment. Perry, on the other hand, is viewed by many as having a decent chance at winning the nomination if he were to enter the race.
A Gallup poll released this week showed Perry would begin with high positive intensity scores and moderate name recognition, if he decided to enter the race.
All the other current candidates have “burned bridges” with the Latino community either through their rhetoric or their policy positions, according to Blase. In one example, former Federal Reserve Chair Herman Cain said that to improve security along the U.S./Mexico border, he would build a “Great Wall of China,” with an electrified fence and alligators in a moat.
Blase said she has a difficult time convincing fellow Latinos to vote Republican because of the tarnished image the party has on immigration issues. Selling Latinos on the Republican Party is like “selling a dead skunk to a perfume vendor,” said Blase.
For many Latinos, a candidate's public rhetoric about immigrants and Latinos can matter just as much as their policy positions. This is one reason George W. Bush was so popular with the Latino community.
“We loved Bush,” said Blase, “if we got a Bush [type] candidate [for the 2012 election], there's no question we could get 44 percent [of the Latino vote]. [Bush] got it, he never demonized us, he wasn't afraid of having more of us here.”
The Tea Party Movement, on the other hand, is “like kryptonite,” to the Latino community, according to Blase. She saw many examples of anti-immigrant sentiments at Tea Party rallies. In one video of a June, 2011 Tea Party rally in Texas that went viral in the Latino community, a speaker complained that there were too many Latino legislators.
Blase would encourage Perry, if he decided to run, to seek out advisers who have connections to the grassroots in Latino communities. Republicans have an opportunity to reach out to Latinos, Blase thinks, because Latinos have been disillusioned with the Obama presidency thus far. Additionally, with the growth of the Latino community, Blase thinks that a Republican candidate would need at least 40 percent of the Latino vote to beat Obama in 2012.
Blase would like to see former Florida Governor Jeb Bush enter the race. He is George W. Bush's brother, and his wife, Columba, is of Mexican descent. Jeb Bush has also been active in groups that are trying to make the Republican party more Latino-friendly. (paragraph)
Sources have told Blase, however, that Jeb Bush is waiting until 2016 to run for president.