ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Republican leaders are launching an effort led by Hispanic governors in New Mexico and Nevada in an attempt to make up ground with Latino voters who have largely turned away from the GOP.
The nation's only Hispanic governors plan to recruit minority candidates and groom them for state-level offices with an eye toward creating a pool of candidates for higher positions in the future, the Republican State Leadership Committee said in a statement.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, both moderate Republicans seen as rising stars in the party, will focus on attracting candidates and raising money for upcoming elections, the group said.
Supporters see the move as an opportunity to expand the party's influence.
"This is a good thing and great way to reshape the Republican Party," said Bob Quasius, founder of the Minnesota-based Cafe Con Leche Republicans, a group that seeks to make the GOP more welcoming to immigrants.
He added that after the November elections, several Republicans "realized that they need to do a better job at reaching out to Latino voters."
Robert L. Fortes, a Boston-based GOP strategist who advised campaigns for former Sen. Scott Brown and former Gov. Mitt Romney, called the move "fantastic" and said such efforts would help Republicans who are trying to make inroads in Boston's black and Latino neighborhoods.
"If we make minority voters more competitive and not leave it one-sided, we can really transform the electorate across the country," Fortes said.
Detractors, however, predict it will be mere window-dressing designed to hide a larger problem.
"Simply changing the color of the icing won't do it," said Sandra Tenorio, chair of the Tejano Democrats, a Hispanic political group in Texas.
Tenorio said "it's at best naive and at worst insulting to think that Hispanics will vote for someone because of their last names."
Javier Gonzalez, chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, said the Republican Party needed to change its positions on education, health care and fighting poverty to truly make progress with Hispanic voters.
Martinez and Sandoval worked on minority outreach last year before the presidential election. In the November elections, however, President Barack Obama took about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote. Additionally, about 9 in 10 black voters backed Obama. And among women, around 55 percent voted for the Democratic incumbent as he defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Based in part on a lack of support from minority voters, the GOP also lost ground in congressional elections, as Democrats picked up two seats in the U.S. Senate and eight in the U.S. House.
The Republican State Leadership Committee did not respond to an email from The Associated Press on Tuesday.
"Gov. Sandoval believes it's important to reach out and attract and support new young leaders from diverse backgrounds, and he's looking forward to joining this effort," said Mike Slanker, a Sandoval adviser, in an email.
Phone calls to Martinez's aides were not immediately returned.
The effort was to be formally announced Wednesday.
There are two Hispanic governors: Martinez, the first Latina elected to lead a state; and Sandoval, the first Hispanic to hold Nevada's top office.
The U.S. Senate has three Latinos — two Republicans and one Democrat.
There number of Hispanics in the U.S. House has been disputed recently, but according to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, there are 31 Latino U.S. representatives. Most are Democrats.
Alejandra St. Guillen, executive director of the Boston-based Oiste, a nonpartisan group that trains Latinos and blacks to run for office in Massachusetts, said more Latino and female candidates were needed in both parties and that their presence might help end constant, political stalemates.
"People are sick of the gridlock," said St. Guillen. "There's been a lack of leadership from both parties in trying to recruit more Latinos for office. It's time for that to change."
The GOP might be able to make inroads with Latino candidates by targeting state seats since the majority of state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, said Tatcho Mindiola, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston.
"But," Mindiola said, "I'm not sure if these Latino candidates can wrestle away seats where the very conservative and tea party factions still carry weight."
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras
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