Analysis: Could Labrador Bring Latinos To The GOP?

Image: Mark Amodei, Raul Labrador
File photo of Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, right, who has announced his vying to replace Rep. Eric Cantor as House majority leader after Cantor's loss in the Virginia Republican primaries and his announcement he was stepping down as Majority Leader.Susan Walsh / AP

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With the shocking loss of Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor there was much speculation about what role his immigration stance played in his demise. While winner David Brat’s anti-immigrant stance was viewed by some as an influential factor in his victory, there is good evidence that Republican reform candidates are not paying as high a toll at the voting booth as the conventional storyline suggests.

Last Friday, Raul Labrador announced that he would challenge Rep. Kevin McCarthy for Eric Cantor’s post as Majority Leader. Mr. Labrador is a notable candidate for the GOP leadership position because as a Latino and former immigration attorney, he is also a favored conservative among powerful ideological circles, such as FreedomWorks.

Mr. Labrador is certainly out of sync with the majority of Latinos on policy matters, but academics agree that promoting Latinos to positions of power in political office can have a mobilizing impact among potential Latino voters. This should be concerning to Democrats, as large swaths of Latinos continue to lean towards independence regarding their partisan affiliation. Latino Decisions, a polling firm that specializes in Latino polling, continues to find evidence that “Latino voters are still highly movable when it comes to Republicans and immigration”.

This means that the future of any Republican national depression is far from being set in stone. But why should Republicans change their stances for a group that has shown little penchant to vote for them? The answer is not entirely about policies. President Obama has deported more immigrants than any administration since Eisenhower, yet President Obama still received over 70 percent of the Latino vote.

If Republicans are to begin rebuilding a successful recruitment strategy, the first order of business should be restoring trust, not necessarily changing policies, which many Republicans fear can have a strongly negative impact among their existing voter base. Placing Latinos in positions of power can help begin the process of building trust among Latino communities.

In my work in the past, I along with my co-author found that Latino recruiters can help moderate communication barriers between Latinos and the Republican Party. In our study, we found that Latinos were more likely to find President Bush as a likable person if they reported to have been contacted by a Latino Republican. Perhaps more important, there was a negative impact among Latinos who were contacted by non-Latino Republicans. Meaning those Latino voters who were contacted by white Republicans were less likely to find President Bush as a likable person.

This is an important finding for the GOP, because we did not find Democrats to gain the same benefit as Republicans from using Latino recruiters. What this tells us is that Democrats do not have the same communication barrier that exists between Republicans and Latinos. This is consistent with subsequent work I compiled from polling data that illustrates a large trust gap between the GOP and Latinos.

The question then is whether or not politicians like Raul Labrador share enough common history and experiences with Latinos, despite his conservative principles, to begin a dialogue with independent Latino voters who may reluctantly pull the lever for a Democrat on Election Day because despite any differences, there is ultimately some sense of trust. My opinion is that he does not, but the empirical evidence suggests that if the Republicans think Raul Labrador can help them with Latinos, they are at least beginning to show the right reflexes.