As Mitt Romney touts his controversial self-deportation immigration strategy in Florida in the lead up to the state's GOP primary on Wednesday Jan. 31, former Sunshine State Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, cautioned that some of the Republican candidates' harsh immigration rhetoric could backfire among the state's considerable Hispanic population.
In an interview with CNN's John King on Thursday, Bush said the candidates' divisive language -- particularly the recent spars between Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- could be unappealing to voters who typically believe in the values that Republicans champion.
If we do nothing to try to reach out to voters that believe in our values but feel turned off by the rhetoric, that is the dumbest thing in the world to do, Bush said in response to a question about whether a breach was forming between Hispanic voters and the GOP.
Bush, the co-chair of the Hispanic Leadership Conference, told King it will be difficult for the Republican Party to maintain its majority in Congress if it marginalizes issues that are important to Hispanic-Americans.
The growing populations in all of the swing states are Hispanic voters, he said. This is an over-simplification, but I don't think a party can aspire to be the majority party if it's the old white guy party.
In fact, more than half of the total population growth that occurred in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010 is attributed to an increase in the Hispanic population, the U.S. Census Bureau reports. Although Hispanics used to traditionally gravitate toward the Republican Party, that is no longer the case, a fact that is clearly being demonstrated in Florida.
As recently as 2006, Republican Hispanics outnumbered Democrats in Florida, according to the Florida Division of Elections. By 2008 that balance began to shift; now, there are approximately 111,800 more Hispanic Democrats than Republicans in the state.
Bush penned an op-ed in The Washington Post on Wednesday reiterating his message. The former governor -- who speaks fluent Spanish and whose wife, Columba, is of Mexican descent -- said the GOP needs to cut down on enforcing Hispanic stereotypes and instead press for an overhaul of the nation's education system, among other measures, to once again become relevant to Hispanic-Americans.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has also encouraged the Republican candidates to soften their tone on immigration even though he is far from liberal on the issue himself. Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, does not support limited immigration bills such as the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for individuals who immigrated to the U.S. as children who either join the U.S. military or earn a college degree.
Hispanic advocacy groups have objected ot Rubio's rise. During a speech at the Hispanic National Leadership Conference on Friday, the organization Presente Action launched a national anti-Rubio campaign, chartering planes to circle the area while streaming a banner reading Hey Marco: No Somos Rubios. The statement translates to We aren't Rubios.
Rubio, who was elected to the Senate in January 2011, has been called the crown prince of the Tea Party movement. Pundits have speculated that Rubio could be on the short list of potential Republican vice presidential candidates, partially because of his perceived connection to the Hispanic community.
Interestingly, Rubio may not even have that pull. A survey released in late December form the Pew Hispanic Center found that more than half of the registered Hispanic voters in the nation have never heard of him.