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Why immigration reform won't be enough for the GOP to win Latino voters

Republicans need to win more Latino voters if they want to remain a politically relevant party.

Republicans need to win more Latino voters if they want to remain a politically relevant party. The imperative to win back those voters is so strong that Senator John McCain openly admits it's the reason others in his party are willing to embrace immigration reform, an issue many otherwise oppose.

But the bad news is that immigration reform may not be enough to help the party close the gap on the growing part of the American electorate.

Two key polls from 2012 explain why. A Pew survey found a majority of Hispanics say education, jobs/economy, and health care are "extremely important." Only one in three said immigration was equally important. Even the federal budget deficit ranked higher, and Republicans have failed to win over Latino voters on that issue.

The Republican "small government" mantra won't appeal to most Latinos either, as two in three said they preferred a "larger federal government with more services" over a smaller one in a Washington Post poll from last year.

Even some Republicans admit the chances for winning over the Latino electorate are slim. "Anyone who believes that they're going to win over the Latino vote is grossly mistaken," Congressman Lou Barletta told the Morning Call. "They will become Democrats because of the social programs they'll depend on."

But the biggest indication that the GOP is hopeless when it comes to shrinking the 44-point gap by which Romney lost Hispanic voters may be the memo sent to House Republicans yesterday.

Fresh off the heels of retreat events like "Successful Communication with Women and Minorities," the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network is circulating a memo on the do's and don't's of how Republicans should address immigration reform issues.

The do's:

  • Acknowledge "our current immigration system is broken"
  • use the phrases "earned legal status" and "undocumented immigrants"

The don't's:

  • start the conversation out with "we are against amnesty"
  • use the phrases "pathway to citizenship," "illegals," "aliens," or "anchor babies"
  • talk about Reagan's immigration reform

Why would Republicans not want to talk about Reagan? In this case, it's because he gave citizenship to immigrants back, and Republicans would rather forget about that.

It's not a good sign that the party is still learning to master the language needed to not offend the fastest growing demographic of the American electorate, but it's dangerous to bank on any group of that sized voting on a single-issue.

Full memo below.