No wonder Republicans can’t even get 40 percent of Latino votes in a presidential election.

When Mitt Romney made his first big push to appeal to Latinos earlier this week in Texas, he hammered the “Obama economy” for being “particularly hard on Hispanic businesses and Hispanic Americans.”

He pointed out the grim statistics — an unemployment rate for Latinos of 11 percent and a poverty rate of 30 percent. And he stressed that the Obama regime’s economic policies are hostile to the small businesses and entrepreneurs that traditionally provide many of the jobs in the Hispanic community.

Everything Romney said was true. But he delivered the wrong message in the wrong place. Texas is a Republican stronghold. Romney couldn’t lose the Lone Star State this fall if he promised on Day One of his presidency to outlaw cattle, oil, and gas.

Where Mitt should be stumping for Latino votes is in the contested states of Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Florida. That’s where the election is going to be won or lost. That’s where the Latinos he needs to persuade are concentrated.

Unfortunately for Romney, he’s in serious trouble with Latinos. According to a poll last month, he trails Obama 61 to 27 percent among Latinos. It’s nothing new. Latinos generally vote 2-1 Democrat.

In 2004, Republicans thought they went to heaven when President Bush got 44 percent of the Latino vote. But in 2008, it was back to the usual slaughter. Obama and Biden out-pointed McCain and Palin among Latinos by a margin of 67-31.

It’s hard to blame Latinos for not liking Republicans. The GOP only pays attention to them in election years. And when it courts the Latino community, the GOP doesn’t shape its message to fit their needs or appeal to their conservative family values; it delivers tired economic boilerplate about the benefits of lower taxes.

Romney needs to customize and personalize his message to Latinos voters. He also badly needs someone in his party to help him deliver it. If that sounds like a job for Super Marco Rubio, it’s not. Everyone’s favorite VP pick isn’t the only Latino kid on the Republican block.

Have you heard of Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada? Didn’t think so. Don’t feel bad. Apparently, no one in the GOP has either.

In 2010, Martinez and Sandoval — young, smart, popular, and Latino — won easily in heavily Latino states. As Republicans. Both obviously figured out how to appeal to the independent and Democrat voters.

Sandoval beat Harry Reid’s son in a state that’s 26 percent Latino. Martinez was elected in a state that’s half Latino and has three times as many Democrats as Republicans. How did she win the New Mexico governor’s office?

Not by talking about the differences between Democrats and Republicans. Not about talking about taxes. She won by appealing to the values that Republicans and Latinos share: Who are we as a country? Where are we going?

Today, Martinez has a 70 percent approval rating and is the unsung hero of the Republican Party. She’s the first elected Latina governor in the history of the United States, and the GOP can’t seem to find her even though she is right there in plain view.

Romney shouldn’t necessarily pick Martinez as his VP, as some have suggested. But he should pick her brain. And when Mitt goes courting Latino votes in tough toss-up states like Colorado or Florida, the GOP should make sure Martinez or Sandoval is attached to his hip.

Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of “The New Reagan Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press, 2011). He is the founder and chairman of The Reagan Group and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his website at www.reagan.com.

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey (Creative Commons)

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