It was no coincidence that, a few months after Latino voters rejected Republicans at the ballot box, delegates poured into a talk on Latino outreach at the California Republican Party Convention in Sacramento this weekend.
Surveying the capacity crowd before him, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado acknowledged that the landscape has shifted.
"Listen, I'm sad that it took a big election to fill this room up," Maldonado said. "Because the Latino community has always been there, and it's the fastest-growing community in America."
Delegates convened in Sacramento over the weekend at a dire time for the state party. Republicans hold no statewide elected office, are clinging to a minority position in both houses of the Legislature and fared poorly in the November elections.
Republican leaders are well aware of their diminished status, and they are also aware of a related trend: At the same time that the number of registered Republican voters in California is dwindling, the state's Latino population continues to grow.
Latinos could become the single largest ethnic bloc in the state by the end of 2013. If Republicans are to reverse their fortunes in California, increasing their appeal to Latino voters will be paramount.
"Everyone is crystal clear that the Latino electorate is what we need to focus on," said Errol Valladares, the newly elected state chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.
During the 2012 election cycle, polls consistently showed Latino voters were alienated by some of the harsh immigration rhetoric emanating from Republican officials and candidates. But rather than talk about a policy shift, delegates at the convention this weekend stressed delivering their message to Latino voters by building campaign infrastructure in Latino communities and getting Latino Republicans to run for office.
"The most important thing for the Latino community is respect," Maldonado said. "Just showing up is respect."
Delegates said the party hasn't done enough to present its platform to Latino voters. Marcelino Valdez, who over the weekend became the party's regional vice chair for the Central Valley, said many voters are "basing their opinion of the Republican Party based on sound bites in the media."
He said Republicans need to counteract that by carrying their message directly to Latinos.
"I think the Republican Party has had a philosophy of, well, people will understand who we are and naturally gravitate toward us," Valdez said. "But the unfortunate thing is that a lot of the voters, they need us to go out in the community and tell them who we are."
Part of the problem is that Republicans have let their operations atrophy in Latino communities, said former California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring. He pointed to redistricting that has concentrated Latino voters in safe Democratic districts and created adjacent majority-white districts. That has given Republican candidates little incentive to make inroads with Latino voters, Nehring said.
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