Florida U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez’s resignation closes the latest chapter in the Republican Party’s tumultuous, decade-long effort to woo the nation’s Hispanic voters.
The Cuban-American’s impending departure could leave no Hispanic Republicans in the Senate and three in the House—compared to 21 Democrats in Congress—and a sense that the national GOP is at a major crossroads with the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group…
Although most Hispanics outside of Florida have long leaned Democratic, the Republican Party earned the trust of many at the beginning of the decade by tapping into socially conservative, religious and pro-business sentiment. Martinez both rode and propelled that wave.
“He symbolized trying to reach out to Latinos and being more moderate,” said Marisa A. Abrajano, a University of California, San Diego professor and co-author of an upcoming book on Hispanic political behavior in the U.S.
“In the vast majority of their values, this party resonates with who I am—except they don’t want me,” lamented the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which represents more than 25,000 Hispanic evangelical churches across the country.
U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said Hispanics have a natural affinity with the Republican Party’s principles but acknowledged the GOP has a lot of work to do.
Of course political fortunes rise and fall quickly. A Democratic failure to achieve meaningful health care or immigration reform or an economic recovery that doesn’t help average Hispanics could encourage them to give Republicans another chance.
“Republicans have to be able to get the Hispanic community to focus on issues where Republicans have the right solutions—and these are critical issues: the economy being number one,” he said.
But experts say the GOP has good reason to be worried.
“One election and one resignation is not the end of an era, but it does signify tremendous problems in appealing to Hispanics in Florida, and nationwide,” said Florida International University political science Professor Dario Moreno.