C&E: Obama’s numbers among Latinos have dropped. How big might the opening be for the Republican nominee next year?
Martinez: Just look at the unemployment numbers for Latinos—they’re in the double digits. There are a lot of Latinos who realize Obama didn’t deliver on his promises. I remember when we went to Illinois in 2008 to look into Obama’s record on Latino issues. It was interesting to see that he didn’t have a huge record and Latinos didn’t have a big connection with him. They had a huge connection with Hillary, though, that’s for sure. Not the same with Obama. I think that’s why he came to El Paso a couple of months ago and said he was going to revive the immigration issue. He hasn’t done anything since. I think it might have just been bait because right away Republicans started attacking him and the heated rhetoric on immigration started back up again. He knows that if Republicans don’t open their arms, Latinos aren’t going anywhere.
C&E: What do we know about the messages or types of appeals that work or don’t work with Latino voters?
Martinez: Well, negative campaigning didn’t work very well last time with McCain. We didn’t have the money Obama had, so we went into attack mode and I don’t think we had enough time to tell the Latino story that McCain had to tell. A lot of voters might want to get down to business right away and talk about the issues. But for Latinos, we like to sit down first at the table and talk about our families and get to know each other. Then we talk business. Candidates need to talk with us about who we are and what our values are before trying to win our vote. We did that with Bush in 2000 and his nephew George P. Bush was very helpful with that. It’s not every election that you have the opportunity to have a nephew with you who speaks Spanish and looks like Ricky Martin helping you get out the vote. It’s that type of connection that’s important. Media-wise, TV has been king. Radio is important, too, and online is going to be very important. My son is turning 18 next year and he doesn’t consume Spanish media even though we talk in Spanish at home. He watches Jon Stewart and Colbert. So the dynamics constantly change and assuming that a radio or TV campaign a few weeks before the election will work is a mistake.
C&E: Do you think Republicans will ultimately get the message or is there a concern about alienating Latino voters for the long term?
Martinez: This is a winnable election. Look at President Obama’s poll numbers. This really is a winnable election. But this might be the last call for Republicans with Latinos. If you don’t really understand and grab this opportunity, then when are you going to do it? That’s the real question. What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for 2016? For the general election, I think everybody’s going to be knocking on Marco Rubio’s door, that’s for sure. Everybody’s going to be looking at Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Brian Sandoval in Nevada. That’s one way to say to Latino voters that we’re taking this very seriously—put one of them on the ticket. Three of the states that are going to be toss-ups have big Latino populations. We have to understand that this could be the game changer.