By Kevin Liptak, CNN
(CNN) — The trouncing Republicans received in November’s election was fueled partly by Democrats’ success among minorities, who formed a record portion of total turnout and overwhelmingly cast ballots for President Barack Obama.
As the national GOP examines what went wrong, a new effort will focus on electing women and minorities to state office, where organizers say a new generation of Republican leaders can help change the perception that their party is no longer reflective of America’s changing population.
The Future Leadership Caucus, an initiative of the Republican State Leadership Committee, will “play an important role in finding ways to increase women and minority participation in the party by recruiting candidates that reflect the increasing diversity in the electorate,” according to Ed Gillespie, who is returning as the RSLC chairman after serving as an adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. He was speaking on a conference call with reporters to announce the group’s formation.
That campaign has been accused of alienating Hispanic voters during last year’s contest, including the candidate’s support for a policy of “self-deportation” that was widely derided by both his GOP primary rivals and Democrats. Romney wound up winning 27% of the Latino vote, compared to 31% for Sen. John McCain in 2008 and 44% for George W. Bush in 2004.
Republicans have embarked on a soul-searching effort for their party after that trouncing, including attempts to appeal to a broader range of voters. Obama beat Romney in all groups except white males in November’s election.
While Gillespie wouldn’t delve into why he thought his former boss performed so dismally among Hispanics, he did say down-ballot candidates were forced to withstand a “negative environment at the national level” during the 2012 campaign.
But that could change, he said, if his group is successful in bringing in more women and minorities to run for offices like lieutenant governor and state legislator.
“It’s not just in the GOP’s interest, but it’s in the interest of women and minority voters,” Gillespie said, adding that the entire country, regardless of party, could benefit from more equal distribution of minority voters between Republicans and Democrats.
“It’s not in the country’s interest for one party to take a segment of voters for granted and another to write them off,” he said. “It’s not healthy.”
One of the Future Leadership Caucus’ co-chairman, New Mexico Gov. Susan Martinez, said part of the GOP’s effort needed to include convincing more Republican women and Hispanics like herself to run for public office.
“The way for the party to grow again is to elect more Hispanics and women at the local level,” Martinez said on the conference call. “I feel strongly about that. We need to look into the communities and make sure those elected officials look like those communities.”
Recruitment can’t happen in Washington, she said, saying groups like hers need to sit down with potential candidates where they live to truly assess their priorities.
“I feel strongly that if we get out into the communities, and are careful about our tone, and listen — not talking about what we think they want, but listen to their needs — I think Republicans will do a much better job in recruiting good candidates,” she said.
And it’s not just about immigration, she said. Groups of lawmakers in Washington are currently hammering out plans for comprehensive immigration reform, including a bipartisan panel of Senators who announced a framework for legislation in January that includes a path to citizenship hinged upon bolstering border security.
That panel included Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who like Martinez and her Future Leadership Caucus co-chair Brian Sandoval, the governor of Nevada, are considered rising stars in the GOP.
While Sandoval said Wednesday the immigration debate in Washington could be a “strong way to attract Hispanic candidates,” it cannot form the entirety of the Republican Party’s Hispanic outreach.
Martinez agreed, saying that “no single issue will redefine any party.”