The campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is looking to woo Hispanic voters, a must-win constituency for President Barack Obama in 2012, with a uniquely energized and focused outreach operation for the primaries and beyond.
While other parts of his campaign have struggled to get up and running, Gingrich has had a separate Miami-based headquarters for months tasked exclusively for reaching out to Hispanic voters. He also has outreach (or “inclusion,” to use the campaign’s preferred term) operations based in early primary states.
Sylvia Garcia, Gingrich’s National Hispanic Inclusion Director and the leader of the Miami headquarters, says that the campaign is busy recruiting a team of Hispanic county chairs in states like New Hampshire and Iowa, as well as in Western swing states with large Hispanic populations.
“We’re working hard on getting enough people on the ground to work with all our volunteers and get out the message,” Garcia told The Daily Caller.
Obama won two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in 2008, but there are signs Republicans could pick up enough of that vote — 40 percent is often cited as the magic number — to give the White House a run for its money in states like Colorado, Florida and New Mexico.
Supporters say Gingrich’s moderate stance on immigration, long-standing ties to the Hispanic community and much publicized conversion to Catholicism would make him a dangerous opponent to an Obama campaign, which is counting on overwhelming support from Latinos next year.
Likewise, even some Democratic strategists have expressed concern that Gingrich’s interest in peeling away Hispanic voters could cause serious trouble for the White House should he win the nomination. (RELATED: Full coverage of Newt Gingrich)
“The possibility of a Gingrich nomination does scramble the deck, and it may mean that President Obama has to be more assertive on immigration issues,” Frank Sharry, a liberal immigration advocate, told The Washington Post earlier this month.
“Newt’s been reaching out to Hispanic voters for many years,” Garcia, who has been working for Gingrich on Latino issues for seven years, told TheDC. “It had nothing to do with his campaign. … We launched his Newt.org website in Spanish back in ’05 I believe, we had two of his books translated into Spanish, we had his DVD on Pope John Paul II translated into Spanish, launched TheAmericano.com as a conservative web mag for Hispanics.”
Gingrich, Garcia said, has been having regular round table discussion with Hispanic business and religious leaders at least since 2006, and that the campaign has a Spanish-language campaign website, NewtPresidente, along with a Spanish language Facebook page and Twitter feeds. His religious conversion is also often highlighted when reaching out to Catholic and Evangelical Hispanics.
“Hispanic inclusion is front-and-center in this campaign,” Garcia said. “It’s always been front-and-center in messaging for Newt, and the communication to the Hispanic community has always been important to him.”
“I think that’s really where he can differentiate himself from the other candidates,” she continued.
Garcia also hopes Hispanic voters can make a difference for Newt in the upcoming primaries.
“I think one of the biggest mistakes Republican campaigns have made in the past has been to ignore the Latino vote for the primaries,” she said, adding that it’s a good way to earn their trust and build a “sincere relationship” before the general election.
“Newt’s position on immigration and Latino issues is important, and it’s unique, and we think it’s important to talk [about],” Carli Dimino, Gingrich’s New Hampshire inclusion director, told TheDC in the campaign’s bustling Granite State headquarters in Manchester.
Like much of the campaign’s New Hampshire staff, the Boston College-educated Dimino is a political neophyte and longtime fan of the former Speaker. Now she’s in charge of turning out the state’s small but growing Latino population for Gingrich in time for the primary on January 10th. (SEE ALSO: Mark Steyn: Gingrich ‘in a benign sense … is a totalitarian’)
“First day I got here, I went to city hall to see how to register to vote, because every state’s a little bit different,” she said. “I asked for materials in Spanish, and they didn’t have them, so first day I get here I translated all those documents here, available and translated for anyone who might need them.”
Signs in English as well as Spanish welcome voters to Gingrich’s New Hampshire HQ, along with copies of the 21st Century Contract with America available in both languages. Dimino translates all of it, and goes door to door reaching out to Hispanic leaders in the state, building contacts and asking them to help get Gingrich’s message out.
The small size of the Hispanic community in New Hampshire does pose difficulties for outreach, but Dimino says the response she’s received has exceeded expectations at every turn.
“I’m from outside Philadelphia, where every church has a Spanish mass,” Dimino said. “But everybody here is like, ‘Spanish mass? What?’ I did find a Spanish mass that I’ll be going to this weekend, to stand outside and pass out literature and reach them that way, because I think his background and his message really resonates with Catholic voters.”
“It been an amazingly positive response,” Dimino said. “Latinos are amazingly receptive to his message.”