In the wake of Mitt Romney's loss, many Republicans are concerned that the Republican Party can't make inroads with minority voters. Hispanics, who make up a growing share of the U.S. population, gave Romney only 27 percent of their votes, the worst GOP showing in decades.
The solution to the Republicans' problem isn't costly or complicated, but it will require a lot of effort. My perspective comes from a trifecta of experience, including covering politics as a newspaper reporter, serving as a Democrat in Pennsylvania's state legislature and later serving as a successful Republican congressional campaign manager.
I worked for Romney at the precinct level in Virginia, and I could see Hispanic voters breaking for the president in droves. There was nothing that could be done to turn it around. Hispanic voters had been lost to Romney years ago, and it wasn't primarily because of policy, immigration, legislation, ideology or lack of showcasing future role models within the Republican Party. One Hispanic voter after another simply said, "Romney doesn't like us." They were voicing an opinion about a group of people (Republicans) based on the fear and uncertainty of what a Romney presidency would bring. They simply didn't trust him. Word had spread throughout the Hispanic community.
But that doesn't have to be the end of the story. Hispanics will change their perception of the GOP when they get to know Republicans -- really know them -- and that won't happen until the GOP initiates a "bottom-up" strategy; decentralizing national Republican politics.
To change the perception that exists now, it will take an organized and sustained grassroots effort at the precinct level in key states. It needs to be the goal of the Republican Party that Hispanic and minority voters are as aware of a GOP presence in their community as they are of their local church.
The party should be there, and everywhere, at all times. Voting habits begin with trust, and being a good neighbor is the surest way to gain trust from people in the neighborhood. For practical purposes, this means the GOP should open and staff working local Republican headquarters in the neighborhoods of large Hispanic precincts throughout the country. This would not be an expensive endeavor, nor should it be.
The GOP presence in Hispanic communities should focus on all the things good neighbors are known for, most of which is not political. In a broad sense, this might include volunteering in after-school programs; helping Hispanics with math and English, sponsoring community events, or offering constituent service to Hispanics interfacing with local government.
The aim is not to talk or promote politics year-round but to invest the time necessary to connect and develop personal relationships. Supporting and working for local and state candidates, registering voters, and recruiting volunteers at election time is the purpose of all political parties, and this should be a GOP objective, too.
The goal is not to bring the Republican National Committee to the Hispanic community; the goal is for Republicans to establish themselves as genuine neighbors to this and other minority communities.
National Republicans are not currently doing what they must to change the perception Hispanics have of Republicans. Showcasing GOP success stories won't do it. Messages from titular heads of the party won't do it. Answers from focus groups won't do it, Karl Rove can't do it, and the pundits on Fox News can't do it.
Republicans need to be in Hispanic communities; serving and involved throughout the year, not only on Election Day. It's simple to do, inexpensive to implement, and it will work.
Robb Austin is a former newspaper reporter for the McKeesport (Pa.) Daily News, former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Republican congressional campaign manager and former Republican congressional chief of staff in Washington, D.C.