As the Republican presidential campaigns begin to take shape and the political community gets its first glimpse of new redistricting maps, one of the most frequent questions I get from reporters, consultants, and independent expenditure groups is this: What is the absolute cut-off date to begin a Hispanic program?

If you really have to ask, you’re probably too late.

First, the idea that any political organization would ever stop communicating with any segment of the electorate seems foolish. It becomes increasingly problematic when that segment represents the fastest growing group of people in the United States. When you consider that Republicans have historically neglected a sustained ethnic program or presence in the Hispanic community, and the trending Democratic Party affiliation tendencies of younger Hispanics, the Republican Party has suddenly reached a crisis level.

In the past ten years, Hispanics have accounted for 56 percent of the population growth in the U.S.—an increase of 15 million people. Over the same period, eligible Latino voters also increased from 13.2 million in 2000 to 21.3 million in 2010.

The most striking aspect is the broadening growth beyond what traditionally are considered Hispanic states or regions. While the Hispanic population in South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky grew by over 100 percent, the Hispanic growth in New Mexico was 25 percent.

Republicans must consider the Hispanic base a growing, influential and reachable part of the electorate.

The latest census figures show that New Mexico’s population has swelled to just over 2 million. Hispanics accounted for 78 percent of that growth, increasing the total Hispanic population in New Mexico to 46.3 percent. In South Carolina, Hispanics now represent 5 percent of the population, 4 percent in Alabama and 5 percent in Tennessee.

While the total number of Hispanics in some of these states isn’t large, the percentage growth reflects an ever expanding diversity. With over 21.3 million eligible Hispanic voters already and one turning 18 years old every 30 seconds, communicating with Hispanics cannot be a part time activity, it must be a year-round process.

The old adage “hunt where the ducks are” applies here. The idea that solely investing resources and booking campaign spokespeople and surrogates on English-language media outlets will somehow magically deliver your message to Hispanic voters is widely refuted by data.

According to Nielsen Ratings Solutions, 71 percent of all people watching Spanish language television are viewing one of Univision’s stations—Univision, Telefutura or Galavisón. The Univision audience is comprised of 25 percent who identify themselves as Spanish dominant, 58 percent who are bilingual and 17 percent who are English dominant.

Year after year I’m presented with the question of whether Hispanic voters as a bloc are less likely to watch Spanish-language media sources. The assumption goes something like this: "By now they are fully integrated into the democratic process, so wouldn’t they have transitioned themselves into watching ‘The Biggest Loser’ and ‘American Idol’ like everyone else?” The short answer is no.

One of the reasons for the dominant Spanish-language audience is that unlike the 500 plus English-language channels, you don’t find that type of channel fragmentation in Spanish-language media. For the most part, Spanish-language media is still very concentrated. And consider this: Univision is now the third-largest network in the country among adults under the age of 34, regardless of language.

Most Hispanics grow up in a bilingual environment where it is the norm to continue to watch Spanish-language media, even after moving out of your parent’s home.

So, if you are still questioning when and how to begin your Hispanic program, you’re definitely late to the game.

Hector Barajas is the director of strategic communications at Revolvis, a Republican firm and a consultant for Univision. He served as a spokesman for California gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman in 2010 and as the Spanish media spokesman for the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008. 

Also on Campaign Insider: NDN's Simon Rosenberg and Alicia Menendez on why Dems need to earn the Hispanic vote every two years. Read it here.