June/July 2012 - Issue VII

Historical Partisan Hispanic Outreach Styles
Author: Dr. Robert G. Marbut Jr.

There has been much written about Hispanic outreach during the last two current presidential election cycles, but there has been very little written about historical outreach to the Latino community over the last half century.

The Democratic party has historically been the home of most Hispanic voter groups, with the exception of Cuban-Americans.  Concurrently, Democratic presidential candidates have consistently supported favorable policy positions on issues important to most Hispanic voters.

Unlike the Democratic party that has generally courted Latino voters for more than 50 years, many Republican presidential candidates have either ignored or antagonized the Latino voting community.  The use of negative anti-immigrant wedge issues by several Republican presidential candidates has created many impediments to the potential attraction of Latino voters by Republican candidates.

Beyond policy positioning, the outreach styles of Republican presidential candidates have varied widely.  With just a few notable exceptions, Republicans have been generally antagonistic or neglectful in nature toward the Hispanic community.  The first notable exception was Dwight D. Eisenhower.


The Start of Hispanic Outreach: IKE? – 1952 and 1956

Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 1952 presidential campaign, made the first effort by a presidential candidate of either major party to target Hispanic voters.  What at first might appear counterintuitive – a Republican presidential candidate in the 1950s reaching out to the Hispanic community – makes more sense when analyzed within the personal context of Eisenhower’s life experiences.  Eisenhower had deep personal roots in South Texas.  Eisenhower had spent several years living in San Antonio while he was stationed at Fort Sam Houston during two different tours of duty.  Additionally, Eisenhower spent a significant amount of his off-duty time coaching athletic teams at St. Mary’s University, a traditionally Hispanic institution with a reputation of activism.  Eisenhower’s personal convictions, which were grounded in his close contact with the Latino community in San Antonio, may better explain the outreach to Hispanic voters by Eisenhower rather than a grand global political strategy.


JFK’s Counter Riposte – 1960

In 1960, the John F. Kennedy campaign was the first Democratic presidential campaign to systematically target Hispanic voters.  Kennedy and his aides believed Kennedy’s Catholicism was a natural bridge to the predominantly Catholic Hispanic community.

Until the efforts of the Eisenhower Republican campaigns, Hispanics voted around 90% for Democratic presidential candidates.  In a clear effort to retain the Hispanic voting bloc as part of the core Democratic voting coalition, the Kennedy campaign ran both an air war (television advertising) and a ground war (grassroots mobilization) targeting both habitual and non-habitual Latino voters.  The Kennedy air campaign ran a television advertisement featuring Jackie Kennedy saying in Spanish, “my husband always pays attention to the interests of all sectors of American society.”  This is the first known television advertisement to feature a presidential candidate’s wife and the first known television advertisement produced in Spanish. 

The prime component of the Kennedy campaign ground war was an extensive network of Viva Kennedy! clubs in Latino communities throughout the United States.


Return of Neglect by Both Parties – 1964 to 1972

From 1964 through 1972, there were minimal levels of formalized Hispanic outreach activities by either the Democratic or Republican presidential campaigns.  During these election cycles, the Democratic presidential candidates received approximately 80% or more of the Hispanic votes.  One can explain the reason for the lack of extensive Latino outreach programs during this time frame in part because the battleground states during these elections generally had relatively fewer Hispanic voters. 

The enlightened sensitivity shown by Eisenhower and Kennedy toward the Hispanic community was spawned primarily by their personal life experiences and viewpoints rather than by a grand political strategy.  None of the presidential candidates from 1964 through 1972 had extensive interpersonal interaction with the Hispanic community, with the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson.  As for Johnson in 1964, the election was so one-sided in Johnson’s favor that he did not need to tactically mobilize the Hispanic community.


Ford’s False Start – 1976

In 1976, during the presidential Republican primary campaign against Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford made a concerted effort to attract Hispanic voters in the critical swing state of Texas.  While at a campaign rally in front of the Alamo, President Ford was handed a tamale to eat as part of a photo-op, at which time Ford proceeded “with gusto” to bite through the corn husk rather than taking it off first.  Ford’s incorrect consumption of this Mexican culinary delight was so embarrassing that his gaffe was printed on the front page of the New York Times.  Ford’s misfortune in front of the Alamo proved to be a negative cue and became symbolic of Ford’s lack of understanding about the Hispanic community. 

At Ford’s first White House press conference after his loss to Jimmy Carter, a reporter asked Ford to name the single most important lesson he had learned from the campaign, Ford responded learning how to shuck a tamale.

Juxtaposed to Ford, presidential candidate Jimmy Carter was successful in his outreach activities to the Hispanic community.  Carter actively pursued Hispanic voters and is generally considered the first presidential candidate to speak Spanish on the campaign trail.  With the help of a strong showing in the predominantly Hispanic voting precincts in south Texas, Carter narrowly beat Ford in Texas, thus contributing significantly to Carter’s close Electoral College victory in 1976.


Reagan the Republican Trailblazer – 1980

Reagan was more successful than any other Republic presidential candidate ever before in attracting Hispanic voters and was especially successful in attracting Cuban Latinos.  In 1980, Reagan received approximately 37% of the Hispanic vote. 

Reagan’s anti-Castro and anti-communism rhetoric resonated with Cuban-Americans in the Miami area.  In many ways, Reagan’s successful strategic efforts to target Cuban-Americans during his 1980 campaign significantly solidified the realignment of Cuban-Americans to the Republican party.  Before the Bay of Pigs disaster during the Kennedy administration, Cuban-Americans voted mostly for Democratic presidential candidates.

For the first time ever, a Republican presidential candidate fully utilized a Latino advertising agency to produce and place Hispanic targeted advertisements.  Reagan hired Lionel Sosa to coordinate Latino media advertising and marketing.  Sosa emphasized the policy themes of pro-family, anti-communism, pro-military and individual responsibility.  Reagan strongly believed the core Republican issues would attract a large number of Hispanic voters.  Reagan once even told Sosa, Hispanics “are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet.”


Reagan the Backslider – 1984

During his reelection campaign in 1984, Reagan was far less successful in attracting Latino voters than he was in 1980.  The degradation of Hispanic support for Reagan can be mostly explained by the policy positions and political actions taken by Reagan during his first term.  Had Reagan appointed more Latinos to senior levels of his administration and had he been more sensitive to policy concerns of the Hispanic community, he might have been able to increase the level of Hispanic support in 1984.


Neglect by Both Parties: Take Two – 1988

The outreach efforts of the 1988 presidential campaign were just as modest in scope as the 1964 through 1972 campaigns and as a result most Hispanics voted for the Democratic president candidate.  The Democratic National Committee (DNC) participated in several voter registration drives during the spring and summer months, but these registration drives were not followed-up with comprehensive mobilization and get-out-the-vote efforts.  Many within the national Democratic leadership took the Hispanic voting bloc for granted assuming presidential candidate Michael Dukakis would receive 70% or more of the Latino votes. 

The unexpected death early in the 1988 campaign of Willie Velasquez, who was the most vocal champion of a comprehensive and well-funded Democratic Latino outreach program, further weakened the Democratic Latino outreach efforts.


Clinton’s Vision, a Return to 1960 Levels of Outreach – 1992

For tactical, strategic and philosophical reasons, the 1992 Bill Clinton presidential campaign conducted a well-planned and integrated effort to reach out to the Latino community.  The Clinton campaign in 1992 was the first presidential campaign since the 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign to dedicate significant levels of resources to both advertising and grassroots mobilization.

By combining an air strategy with ground mobilization, Clinton was very effective in turning-out Latino voters, even seeing some marginal improvement with Cuban-American voters in Florida. 

The Electoral College strategy of the Clinton campaign included tactical initiatives in many states with significant levels of Latino voters such as Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.


Clinton II, the Most Comprehensive Hispanic Outreach Yet – 1996

Clinton’s 1996 Latino outreach campaign has been considered the best and most effective Hispanic outreach campaign of any presidential campaign.  Andy Hernandez is credited for creating the Clinton presidential Latino outreach campaign strategy.  Reporting directly to Donald Fowler, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair, Hernandez orchestrated the creation of the Office of Latino Outreach (OLO).  OLO developed and implemented a top-to-bottom Latino outreach campaign which utilized the resources of the DNC, the Clinton-Gore presidential campaign and the Latino presidential political appointees throughout the administration.

There are three main reasons why the 1996 Democratic presidential Latino outreach campaign was so successful.  First, candidate Bill Clinton  was very supportive of specialized ethnic sub-campaigns.  Second, Hernandez was strategically and tactically brilliant in the development and implementation of the overall effort.  Finally, OLO had many champions throughout the Clinton-Gore campaign, most notably Cabinet Secretaries Federico Peña and Henry Cisneros.


Wilson’s Antagonist Assault on the Hispanic Community – 1996

Candidates like Pete Wilson and Pat Buchanan have attempted to use Latino and Mexican immigrant issues as wedge issues to gain support of white conservative voters, especially during the presidential primary season of their respective campaigns.  As a result of this openly antagonistic approach toward the Hispanic community, Hispanic voters have turned out at higher than average rates for Democratic presidential candidates. 

As part of California Governor Wilson’s strategic political positioning both in California and for his 1996 presidential candidacy, he staked out four antagonistic policy positions:  the discontinuance of public and social services to “illegal aliens” (California Proposition 187); the discontinuance of race/ethnicity and gender affirmative action in public education and state contracting of services (California Proposition 209); the discontinuance of bilingual education (California Proposition 227); and the pursuit of hostile positions toward the Mexican Government involving common border issues.

Prior to 1994, Wilson was perceived by many political observers as an ideological moderate Republican.  Early in the election process, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown, led Wilson in the polls by as much as 23 percentage points.  Wilson was in significant political trouble and stood a strong chance of being upset by Brown, hence his lurch to the far right.

During Wilson’s tenure there was a continuous and sustained sequence of anti-Hispanic messages for more than seven years in California.  By 1998, California had functionally become a one-party state in state-wide races.


Bob Dole and the Return of Traditional Republican Neglect – 1996

The 1996 Bob Dole presidential campaign is an example of the traditional neglect by many Republican candidates of the Latino community.  Except for limited tactical outreach programs by the Dole campaign to Hispanic elites in Texas, New York and California and Cubans in Florida none of the 1996 Republican presidential contenders seriously attempted to reach out to Latino voters.


Bush’s Unique Hispanic Outreach Goes National – 2000 and 2004

As the Texas Governor, George W. Bush publically opposed legislative proposals like Propositions 187, 209 and 227.  Bush openly spoke out against these propositions, calling them “divisive” and said “I was against the spirit of Prop 187 for my state . . . I felt like every child ought to be educated regardless of the status of their parents.”  He often talked about the advantages of learning both English and Spanish, and regularly conducted interviews in Spanish.

Bush worked vigorously to create a pro-Hispanic style and actively pursued Hispanic voters.  At campaign events, Bush would often have Hispanic elected officials introduce him, sometimes even Democrats.  He spoke some Spanish during almost every campaign speech he gave, and always strategically used Spanish-language advertising to reach out to the Hispanic community.  For a Republican, Bush received record levels of support from the Hispanic community in his 1998 Gubernatorial Election, receiving about 49% of the Hispanic vote.

The Bush 2000 Presidential Campaign staff believed that to be successful in attracting Hispanic voters, the Bush campaign would have to follow a five-step process.  First, the Latino community had to believe both the Bush campaign and Bush the candidate were sensitive toward and welcoming of Latinos.  Second, the campaign, through advertising and appearances, had to address issues relevant to the Latino community.  Third, because of the past history of Republican insensitivities toward Latinos, the 2000 Bush campaign would have to spend unprecedented levels of funds on Latino outreach.  Fourth, the advertising and outreach had to focus on Bush the individual candidate and not on Bush the Republican party nominee.  Finally, to be successful beyond the 2000 campaign, if he won the election, the Bush administration would have to follow through on the campaign rhetoric to demonstrate this was not just a one time, politically expedient outreach effort.

Unlike past Republican outreach efforts that were narrowly limited to the Cuban-American community and which were often presented in a vacuum, the Bush campaign was conspicuous with its Latino outreach efforts.  To this end, the Bush campaign kicked off their Hispanic advertising campaign with a Spanish radio advertisement in Iowa in October 1999, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to ever use Spanish-language advertising in the state of Iowa.  Then in February 2000, for the first time in a presidential primary contest, the Bush campaign ran a Spanish-language television advertisement in Arizona.  Later in the election cycle campaign, the Bush campaign produced several television advertisements in English and Spanish that featured George P. Bush, a nephew of George W. Bush who is half Hispanic.

The Republican objective was to focus on media markets that contained high concentrations of conservative and independent Hispanic voters within targeted battleground states and proved to be very successful.


The Future

Many Republican strategists posit the long term viability of the Republican party is directly tied to the successful attraction of a substantial number of Hispanics.  These strategists note that until 1994, Republicans were successfully attracting more-and-more Hispanic voters away from the Democrats.  These strategists have asserted that it is imperative for Republican candidates to comprehend that the post-1994 mega-shift of Hispanics back to the Democratic party was self-inflected by Republican candidates, and was not a result of any efforts by the Democratic party.


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            The above article was adapted from Chapter 2 of Dr. Robert G. Marbut Jr.’s Doctoral Dissertation titled “Historical Hispanic Partisan Alignments, Hispanic Outreach Styles, and the Theory of Hispanic Surge-and-Decline Effects on Hispanic Peripheral Voters.”  http://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/1623/marbutjrr9...

            Dr. Marbut is a Tenured Professor at Northwest Vista College and has regularly been an adjunct professor at UT San Antonio.  Prior to teaching, he served as chief-of-staff to San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros and served as a senior staff member to President George H.W. Bush as a White House Fellow.