Does a Republican candidate with a Hispanic surname do better than with Latino voters than an Anglo name?
The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Stassel discussed a Spanish-speaking Republican son of Portugese parents [technically not Latino] who beat the tide in California in 2012, as David Valadao flipped a Democratic US House seat to Republican. The San Joaquin Valley district is 70% Hispanic.  Her points about Mr. Valadao’s success are well-taken, and his success suggests a reasonable approach on immigration reform is a start for any Republican aiming for Latino votes.
But Ms. Stassel claims other Hispanic Republicans have “cracked the code. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susannah [sic] Martinez, Texas Sen.-elect Ted Cruz- all have demonstrated the ability to attract Hispanic voters with the GOP message.” 
“Cracked the code”? Is that true?
We don’t know how well Gov. Martinez did with Latinos because, according to the Pew Center, “No exit polls were done in New Mexico, so it is not possible to analyze the voting patterns among Latinos and other groups in Martinez’s victorious gubernatorial campaign.”  Martinez won with 53.4% of the vote in 2010 , a very good year for Republicans nationally and in a “light blue” state with its population 46% Latino, though a lower proportion is registered to vote. 
Marco Rubio did win 55% of the Hispanic vote in Florida in 2010 and fellow Republican Rick Scott won 50% of the Hispanic vote  in his race against Alex Sink. It’s impossible to be sure what forces drove each person’s vote. The Exit Polling suggests 5% of Hispanics voted for Republican Rubio for Senate and voted for the Democrat Sink for Governor. It is possible Rubio’s ethnic heritage and fluency in Spanish helped him win those extra votes. It could be that it was based on other issues. Immigration, presumably, matters little in Gubernatorial races.
Alas, Stossel’s remark about Ted Cruz is half right. Cruz had some, but not great, incremental results with Hispanic voters. Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney actually won a slightly higher percentage of Texas votes (57.2%)  than Cruz (56.6%) , despite Romney’s lack of success with Latino voters, winning just 27% nationally.
Because Texas wasn’t expected to be close, no Exit Polls were conducted.  I pulled county level data, which shows the maps look almost the same for Cruz and Romney. Both Republicans won most of Texas’ 254 counties. Cruz won just one that Romney lost: gigantic and half-Latino Harris County (home of Houston). Romney lost the county by 615 votes, a fraction of a percent, whereas Cruz won Harris by 2% (about 19,000 votes). 
Also, Houston Chronicle columnist Charles Kuffner looked at Romney vs. Cruz vote totals in five overwhelmingly Latino Texas counties. In all five, Cruz outdid Romney, though he lost the Latino vote in all.  It is worth noting, too, that Cruz ran on a conservative platform that was tough on illegal immigration. On the other hand, Cruz’s father was a Cuban immigrant who arrived with $100 and worked the meanest sort of jobs. Perhaps his story resonated. Or his last name. What we do know suggests he outperformed Romney with Texas Latinos, though he did not outright win them.
I wondered about another high-profile 2010 race, Nevada’s US Senate race featuring Harry Reid vs. Sharron Angle. There was a concurrent race, Nevada Governor, featuring Reid’s son against Hispanic Republican Brian Sandoval. Sandoval received 33% of the Hispanic vote, whereas Angle received 30%. That surprised me. A Hispanic Republican received 33% in his winning bid, yet Angle won 30%, despite her anti-immigration ad that was perceived by many as anti-Mexican American immigrant.  I consider myself a moderate Republican, and Angle’s ad featuring a map of Mexico and dark-skinned border crossers makes me cringe. It was a textbook case of how to alienate many Latinos. Yet, Sandoval only polled a 3% increment of Hispanic voters over Angle.
All this data suggests a handful of Latino Republicans have, for whatever reason, outpolled prominent white GOP statewide candidates. There are so many unique facets of any race – campaign spending, personalities, issues and scandals – that we cannot tell exact reasons why. But, my take is the evidence shows (1) the GOP would be wise to put forward credible Hispanic candidates whenever possible in areas with significant Latino voting populations and (2) the GOP has a long way to go in terms of outright winning Latino votes. The performances of Cruz and Sandoval show they did not win the Hispanic vote; not even close. Rubio, perhaps an unusually strong candidate and one now with national prominence, was able to crack 55% of Florida’s admittedly more GOP-friendly Hispanic voters. Lacking Exit Polls, we cannot tell how well Susana Martinez did, but her 53% overall win suggests she probably lost the Hispanic vote, given an expected win with white voters.
If the GOP is serious about winning national elections – or winning state and local elections in states like Nevada, New Jersey, California, Illinois, Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Texas, the party MUST make itself more hospitable to Americans of Latin American and Hispanic descent. If “amnesty” was good enough for Ronald Reagan, it should be good enough for today’s GOP. Senator-elect Cruz understands:
“If Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community, in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority party in our state,” he said.
Cruz added that losing a state like Texas, which carried 38 electoral votes in 2012, would hold national implications.
“If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House,” he said. “New York and California are for the foreseeable future unalterably Democrat. If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party.” 
It won’t be easy. I suspect the low Hispanic vote totals of Governor Sandoval and Senator Cruz partly reflect the poisoned Republican brand. It is easy to envision a moderate Mexican-American voter in Nevada. If displeased with Angle’s ads, might there not be a spillover effect when considering the candidacy of fellow Republican Sandoval?
I’ve supported immigration reform for decades because it’s the morally right thing to do and it makes sense economically. Immigrants come here for work. From a Republican perspective, its become an electoral necessity, too. Romney lost because of his paltry 27% of the Hispanic vote, which was 10% of the national total. If he split the Hispanic vote, he would have won easily. If he took just 40%, he would’ve eked out a win. Chew on that, Minutemen!
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Mexico_gubernatorial_election,_2010, retrieved 11/15/12.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_mexico, retrieved 11/15/12.
Note: I use “Hispanic” and “Latino” interchangeably. The US Census Bureau defines Hispanic as origins traced to a Spanish-speaking country (including Spain, but not Brazil). Latino is defined as origins in Latin America (not including Spain, but including Brazil). Many American Hispanics prefer simply “American” or their country of origin (e.g. Cuban-American, Colombian-American). Others’ ancestors lived in former Mexican states like Texas (“Tejanos”) and Colorado and became American without moving, after the Treaty of Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War. Hispanics are all individuals and reflect a rich tapestry of cultural experience. Have a naming preference? No offense is intended.
Pictures from Wikipedia Commons.