Client: Republican National Committee
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Bringing Hispanic Americans into the fold
Time Frame: April 2001 - ongoing
Budget: Part of normal operating budget
America's Hispanic population is not known for voting Republican. But
the Republican National Committee (RNC) thinks it can reverse that.
"If you take the Republican and Democratic Party labels away from the
discussion, the Latino community supports the Republican Party on the
issues more than they do at the polls," says RNC press secretary Trent
Duffy. "They're a natural constituency for the Republican Party." So it
was in April 2001 that the RNC set out to increase Hispanic
History was not on the RNC's side. A mere 21% of Hispanics voted for Bob
Dole in the 1996 Presidential election, and George W. Bush's 35% in 2001
was less than expected. As former governor of Texas, Bush often allied
himself with Hispanic causes, even trotting out bits of Spanish at press
conferences. And his half-Mexican nephew, the famously telegenic George
P. Bush, was a visible part of his campaign.
RNC chairman Jim Gilmore and his communications staff understood from
the outset that this campaign would have to be waged on the ground. They
cleared out offices in their DC headquarters, and formed a 13-member
grassroots division dedicated, for now, exclusively to the recruitment
The plan was to reach out to opinion leaders of different groups
(African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and Catholics) who would
then influence others within that group. They also understood that they
would have to put aside the Republican Party brand and lead with the
The grassroots division began organizing "team leadership seminars"
throughout the country. Free to the public, these seminars brought
together large groups of Hispanics from a single community to hear local
leaders talk about Republican priorities and how they gel with local
values. "In Albuquerque, we had the state's first female district
attorney, who had been a Democrat six years ago," says deputy director
of communications Sharon Castillo.
"It was very effective. We can talk to these people on a personal level.
We can sit down and have a frank discussion about the issues."
These events also served as the springboard for something of a "pyramid
scheme." People who express particular interest are signed up as "team
leaders," and encouraged to help with all manner of grassroots
campaigns, calling, and e-mailing legislators, and then finding others
like them in the community who could also become team leaders.
An aggressive media relations campaign made sure that even those who
didn't attend these events heard about them. The RNC placed articles in
hometown papers, usually leveraging the featured speaker for a local
The RNC is pointing to summer poll numbers to show that its efforts are
having an effect. President Bush's approval rating in July among
Hispanics was 59%, about seven points higher than among the general
In its own poll, the RNC has found that 60% of Hispanics approve of
Bush's plan to "cut taxes for all tax payers," and large majorities
consider Bush's top priorities - education and Social Security reform -
their own top priorities.
What the poll does not say, however, is whether Hispanics agree with
Bush's solutions to these problems. And without baseline numbers taken
before the start of the campaign, it's anyone's guess whether the RNC's
efforts have had an impact yet. The true test will come not just in the
2004 Presidential election, but the midterm elections a year from
Prior to September 11, the RNC had held 11 team leader events, with two
more scheduled for before year's end. A larger Hispanic Heritage event
planned for September 18 was postponed due to the terrorist attacks.
The campaign is scheduled to continue indefinitely. Practically
speaking, both public and legislative priorities have been scuttled to
the point that the issues being used to attract Hispanics may no longer
be the lure they once were. And some of President Bush's initiatives
that were most popular with Hispanics - increasing diplomatic relations
with President Vicente Fox of Mexico and legalizing large numbers of
Mexican immigrants - have now been sidelined indefinitely.