CAMPAIGNS: Political PR - RNC searches for minority support

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

of minorities.

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.

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