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{March 2, 2014} {1:30pm} -- Miami, FL, --Libre Initiative volunteer Felipe Rodriguez-Otero, left, distributes informative pamplets to Blanca Prado, center, and Margarita Guerrero, both of Miami, at Ekklesia Church in Miami Sunday, March 2, 2014. Republican outreach to Hispanic community - A year ago, the Republican National Committee published a report chronicling why they failed in the 2012 presidential election. The report recognized that Mitt Romney's showing with Hispanics - he only garnered 27% of their vote - was a key factor in the loss. So we're taking a look at what the GOP has done in the past year to better reach out to that key demographic. Part of that outreach is being done by the party itself, but outside groups are also helping. This shoot will focus on the LIBRE Initiative, a group that formed in 2011 that tries to get Hispanics to register to vote while educating them on Republican ideals. -- Photo by Ana N. Zangroniz, Freelance ORG XMIT: AZ 130739 GOP Hispanic out 03/02/2014 [Via MerlinFTP Drop] / Ana Zangroniz for USA TODAY

MIAMI - Republican operatives have been meeting with Hispanic voters in ten states to glean what they look for in a candidate and which GOP ideas they favor in the hope of boosting vote totals among the fast-growing segment of the voter population.

For a year now the GOP establishment has been pouring money and time into attempts to improve its standing with Hispanic Americans as never before, say Republican operatives.

But differences among Republicans over why Hispanics tend to favor Democrats and how to best turn that around are complicating the call in a Republican National Committee post-election report that the GOP find ways to take a greater share of the vote.

"It's going to take more than a report. It's going to take more than hiring a few people. It's going to take more than holding a few events," said Hector Barreto, who headed the Small Business Administration under Pres. George W. Bush and has been involved in every Republican presidential campaign since 2000.

"This has to be a real continuous effort, and I feel that's been lost."

Ever since Mitt Romney received the lowest portion of the Hispanic vote for a Republican in 16 years at 27%, GOP lawmakers and operatives have been tinkering with ways to do better.

Several Republicans joined a push for an immigration bill through the Senate they said would improve GOP standing among Hispanics. GOP members of Congress are appearing on Spanish-language media outlets more often. Independent political groups are helping to push the conservative platform in churches and community gatherings.

Jennifer Korn, the national field director for Hispanic initiatives at the Republican National Committee, said previous Hispanic outreach efforts usually started a few months before an election and ended election night. She said the party's investment in the efforts are now here for good and will ensure that they are on the ground year round.

"This is unprecedented," Korn said. "We stared hiring people a year and a half before the election, and we're going to keep them on after the election."

The first test will come during the upcoming midterm elections, where Hispanics will factor into statewide races in states like Florida, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. So far, few are confident it will work.

"We know who the voters in Manhattan are versus Saratoga, N.Y. We know the difference between voters in Brookline and Boston. But we still don't know people whose name ends in 'e-z,'" said Henry Ramirez, 84, who helped President Nixon improve his standing with Hispanic voters and has been a GOP consultant ever since. "People don't know who those voters are."

Democrats say outreach efforts by Republicans are a waste of time.

"Until the House passes immigration reform, no amount of media spinning will get the Republicans out of their hole," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "The Hispanic community knows this."

Fourteen Republicans, led by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, helped pass a comprehensive bill that revamps the country's legal immigration system and allows the nation's 12 million undocumented immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship after 13 years. Some, like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., say passing that bill through Congress won't automatically win over Hispanic voters, but will get the party "on a playing field where we can compete for the Hispanic voter."

The Republican-led House of Representatives has opted to consider each major issue in the debate - border security, citizenship, immigration levels - in separate bills. So far, that's been slow going with no action on any of those bills since last summer.

But many in the GOP say an immigration bill has little connection to improving Hispanic vote tallies for Republicans, and may even hurt the party overall.

The last time Congress passed a sweeping immigration bill was 1986, when a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Senate approved an amnesty for the nation's 3 million undocumented immigrants.

Just prior to that bill passing, in 1984, Republican President Ronald Reagan received 37% of the Hispanic vote. In the next presidential election in 1988, after the GOP-backed amnesty was implemented, the percentage of the Hispanic vote that went to Republican George H.W. Bush dropped to 30%.

"I reject the notion that Hispanics expect to be pandered to or that you can buy off the votes of Hispanics," said Marc Wachtenheim, a Republican consultant who served on Romney's Hispanic advisory board.

"Hispanics are just like any other U.S. voter. They care about the economy, they care about health care reform, they care about education. They also care about immigration reform, but that's one issue among many."

Wachtenheim says the party needs to simply do the hard work of meeting with, and listening to, Hispanic voters on a more consistent basis.

The RNC has responded with close to 20 people dedicated to recruiting Hispanic voters. Korn said they're going to local meetings, canvassing door-to-door to understand the local population better and signing up volunteers to help come election time.

"When you're talking about grassroots, it's the day to day grind," Korn said. "That's why we're hiring people from the community to work in that area. And they are the eyes and ears for us on the ground to go to these meetings and talk to the Hispanic community."

Some feel there's a limit to what the party operatives can do. Jose Mallea, a Miami-based Republican who has worked on local, state and presidential campaigns since 1996, says the increased polarization of both parties has left many Americans hesitant to listen to either one.

"I can't depend on the party," Mallea said. "(Voters) don't want to hear from the Republican Club. They want to hear from another businessperson. They want to hear from their neighbor, from their pastor."

That's why people attending a recent service in Miami's Ekklesia Church were greeted by representatives from the LIBRE Initiative. Founded in 2011, the non-partisan group has dispatched 35 full-time workers to key swing states to register Hispanic voters and educate them on basic conservative principles.

On a recent Sunday the group organized a community day outside the Miami church. It provided food, a bounce house for kids and a pediatrician offering free advice to parents. LIBRE workers talked to people about conservative principles of economic freedom, the rule of law and free trade.

Daniel Garza, LIBRE's executive director, said its up to groups like his to explain to Hispanic voters why conservative principles and not liberal ones will work better for them.

"I don't know why but conservatives conceded minorities to the left in the past for far too long," Garza said. "I think they're now paying the price for that and they're having to catch up."

On Sunday, outside the Miami church, Blanca de Jesus Cifuentes said she is only used to hearing from either party a month or two before an election.

"This is magnificent," said Cifuentes, 55, a Venezuela native who became a U.S. citizen seven years ago. "They want our vote, but they don't spend time listening to us. This is a step in the door."

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican conference, said she has been pushing her members to meet with more Hispanic groups and appear on Spanish-language media outlets.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., has been the most notable. Mulvaney rode into office in the Tea Party wave of 2010, and has very few Hispanics in his conservative district. But last month, he hosted a talk with hundreds of Hispanics and spoke to them only in Spanish.

Though an opponent of a Senate-like overhaul bill, and amnesty, he says Republicans must still talk to Hispanics and see where they can agree on all sorts of issues.

"The reason Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote is because he didn't bother asking them for their vote," Mulvaney said.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Can the GOP boost Hispanic vote numbers?

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