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Opinion: Want Latino Votes? Think Ground Game And Messaging

Image: U.S. Citizens Head To The Polls To Vote In Presidential Election
File photo of Sterling Heights, Michigan voters in the November 6, 2012 presidential election. Bill Pugliano / Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

The road to the Latino vote just got more interesting. Latinos are the new bellwether of national politics and the entry of Marco Rubio into the discussion has invigorated the notion that Latinos are now in play for the GOP. But the Republicans have a steep hill to climb and the Democrats have some issues they will have to address if they are to solidify their lead among Latinos. Which party gains ground will depend on two things: a genuine ground game and how Republicans behave in the primary elections.

Hillary Clinton must walk the talk, and continue to integrate Latinos not only into the message of the party, but into the decision-making and functional processes of the Democratic ground game. As I wrote several weeks ago, the Democrat’s “Latino Problem” is the stubborn refusal to spread the wealth on the consulting end of the operation. A June 2014 analysis by PowerPAC+, reported by NBC News and others found that only 1.7 percent of the $500 million spent by the DNC on political consulting went to businesses that are minority-owned or are run by a minority principal.

However, Mrs. Clinton is off to a good start with her first campaign video, prominently displaying the diversity of her coalition, as well as a bit in the commercial where two actors are speaking Spanish. Her recent hiring of Obama’s Latino team in Nevada is also a good sign she means what she says, but only time will tell as the campaign gains traction if Latinos find themselves integrated into the campaign or largely on the outside looking in.

The GOP ground game has been wrecked by bad optics in the past. Quite simply said, Republican gatherings are too old, too white, and too male. This isn’t a new problem. After Romney lost badly to President Obama, the post-mortem analysis was about the homogeneity of the GOP. Politico reported, “Our party needs to realize that it’s too old and too white and too male and it needs to figure out how to catch up with the demographics of the country before it’s too late,” said Al Cardenas, the head of the American Conservative Union and a longtime GOP leader.

With Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and the inevitable entry of Jeb Bush, the GOP’s Latino strategy seems to integrate all the right moving parts except for actual Latino voters. Recent polling from Latino Decisions published at the Huffington Post show a clear advantage for Hillary Clinton over Marco Rubio. Not only is she strongly favored in the head-to-head matchup against Marco Rubio, but the image of the Republican Party hangs like an anvil around the neck of the GOP.

And here is the problem. So far the Republicans haven’t given the Democrats much incentive to have genuine integration of Latinos into the party structure. If the Republican primary season is just another rehash of immigrant bashing, various shades of self-deportation strategies, and a continued resistance to addressing the distrust Latinos have with the GOP, the Democrats will only need to hold the line and await Latino voters come election day as the default choice. On

Latinos are looking for someone in the GOP to stand up to the past and look to the future. Marco Rubio ventured into the idea of immigration reform, but was soundly rebuked by the base of his party. By abandoning his own sensible reform policies, he showed little resolve in moving the party forward. If he is getting ready to stand up to Iran, he can stand up to a few party donors at a coffee function in the primaries.

Until the GOP makes some serious policy adjustments "the Latino vote" will be more about shaving enough Latino voters from the Democrats than actually winning over Latino voters.

A genuine ground game and an empathic approach to the ubiquitous nature of immigration would be a start for the GOP, but it is also the best way for the Democrats to shut out the GOP for a generation to come.