Dec. 12, 2012 -- Republicans have a Latino problem and it's one that at least some conservative strategists are beginning to tackle.
The Republican "brand needs substantial resuscitation" among Latino voters, former Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota) said during a news conference to discuss a survey that polled Hispanic views in four critical states.
Conservative polling group Resurgent Republic and the right-leaning Latino advocacy organization Hispanic Leadership Network partnered to survey Hispanic voters in Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico who cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election.
The results indicate that Latino voters don't think Republicans respect the Hispanic community, and that the perception that Latinos naturally align with the Republican Party is misguided.
"We need to recognize that Hispanics have been voting for Democrats for years," said conservative political consultant Whit Ayres, who analyzed the survey results.
He pointed out that, discounting the 1992 and 1996 elections that were three-way races including Ross Perot, 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney performed worse among Hispanic voters than any Republican candidate since 1976, following the Watergate scandal.
The Hispanics surveyed side with Democrats on issues across the board, from abortion to the economy. In all four states, more think the government should do more rather than less. More also support gay marriage or civil unions than not, and more are pro-choice than pro-life in all but New Mexico.
Democrats won even in terms of which party Latinos think is better equipped to help small businesses grow.
"Now come on," Ayres said. "We are the party of small businesses right? But we haven't quite made that sale in the Hispanic community."
Still Ayres and Coleman, along with executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network Jennifer Korn, think the Republican Party can do better with Latino voters in 2016.
They aren't under any illusions, however, that the majority of Latino voters will cast Republican ballots in four years.
"Forty percent in 2016 is achievable," Korn said.
George W. Bush garnered about 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, while Republican candidate John McCain pulled in only 31 percent in 2008. Romney's share of the Latino vote dropped to 27 percent this year.
To reverse the declining trend, "We have to make significant changes in terms of outreach to the Hispanic and Asian communities," Coleman said.
At least 38 percent of the Latino voters surveyed in each state think of themselves as somewhat or very conservative. That's a significantly higher number than the percentage of Latinos who voted for Romney, meaning even some conservative Latinos were turned off by his message.
Both policy and tone will be critical in convincing Latino voters that the Republican party is the one for them.
The survey showed plainly that not only did the Obama camp do a better job of reaching out to Latino voters; it also struck a better tone.
Ayres and Coleman agree that the Republican Party does not have to change tack on a slew of issues to gain Latino support.
According to Coleman, for the Republican Party, "it's the larger question of empathy."
Both men noted that white America is shrinking, and trying to secure a larger share of a shrinking population is not a winning strategy.
"Good policy is good politics," Coleman said, pointing out that "good policy would be to reach out on immigration."
Interestingly, Latino voters in all four states surveyed said that they would vote for a candidate even if they disagreed on immigration policy, as long as they agreed on most issues.
But tone on immigration is critical, Korn said, comparing immigration to ear muffs.
"If tone is harsh on immigration, Latinos aren't going to listen to you on other issues," he added.
"There's no question that Republicans are in a hole and we're not sugarcoating that," Ayres said. "But there's also no question that Republicans have enormous potential to do better than they've done."