The GOP and Hispanic ghosts

sen mel martinezTucked away on page six of Sunday's Washington Post was an update on the Republican Party's efforts to increase its votes among Hispanics. The article focuses on Republican National Committee Chairman Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida and his awkward position as the first Hispanic face of the Republican Party in an election cycle when the Hispanic vote has dropped off and a predominant number of the 2008 presidential candidates aren't exactly looking to push policies that appeal to Hispanics. The huge ghost in this story concerns the social policies the GOP has promoted for a number of election cycles that were supposed to draw in social conservatives. Republican strategists figured that these social issues dominated Hispanic communities. Why? Well, because they are supposedly faithful Catholics. Unfortunately, not more than a single word is devoted to this angle, and it's through a quote from a source:

Capitalizing on his experience as governor of Texas, Bush made historic inroads with Hispanic voters for a Republican, earning 30 percent of their votes in 2000 and 40 percent four years later.

"That was a remarkable achievement," said Roberto Suro, founder and former director of the Pew Hispanic Center, the Washington-based nonpartisan research group. "Bush and [former chief political adviser Karl] Rove believe that Hispanics are natural Republicans. Predominantly Catholic, they're socially conservative. And Bush and Rove sold them the old Main Street Republican approach of upward mobility into the middle class. It worked."

Last year's midterm election was a turning point, however, and the Republicans' share of the Hispanic vote dipped back to 30 percent. The turnaround, analysts said, was the result of the GOP's anti-immigration image. In late 2005, the House passed a bill that sought to toughen border security, authorize local police officers to detain illegal immigrants and crack down on businesses that hired illegal immigrants. Latinos responded by taking to the streets across the country.

Could the Post expound on that thought, please? Is this just a story about how the GOP's failure to embrace immigration reform alienated the voters that the policy was intended to appease? Is the lack of substantial policy efforts on social issues part of the story? How does Alberto Gonzales play into the story with his reputation as not exactly being a social conservative stalwart? Or is there an uncovered element here involving an ever-changing Hispanic community?

The huge area for discussion that the Post passed up are the two major trends that are critical in the Hispanic voting bloc. One would be the rise of Catholic Pentecostals. How has this trend within the Hispanic community affected politics, if at all?

The other major trend would be the high rate of conversion to Protestantism. Are there any talking heads out there who would like to comment on how these two trends could potentially influence more Hispanics to vote for socially conservative candidates?

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