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GOP Must Regroup, Redefine Itself After Election


Karen just mentioned a coalition of races and ethnicities that re-elected President Obama. And there's a lot to say, one day after the election, about race and the changing demographics that helped the president win. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to talk more about that. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hello. Nice to be here.

BLOCK: Mara, we see in the exit polls that President Obama lost white voters by 20 points. The spread was 39-59. How are Democrats and Republicans interpreting that demographic breakdown in the vote?

LIASSON: Well, demographics is kind of the number one topic today as the parties, particularly the Republicans, shifts through the rubble of Tuesday night and figure out what are the lessons learned for them. Mitt Romney did about as well with white voters as any previous Republican seeking the White House. He got close to 60 percent. He kind of maxed out among white people.

The problem is that in - among the Hispanic vote, for instance, he only got 27 percent, less than 30 percent. So the white vote is shrinking. It went from 74 percent of the electorate in 2008 to 72 percent this year. But the Hispanic vote grew from nine percent in 2008 to 10 percent this year. Black votes stayed the same. So he's getting a bigger and bigger market share in a shrinking market. And that's not sustainable over the long term, and Republicans obviously want to do something about that.

BLOCK: Do something about that. And what exactly is on the table for what they should do about it?

LIASSON: Well, there's a lot of talk about whether this was a problem unique to Mitt Romney, is it a problem that's structural with the party, do they have to merely change their tone when they talk about Hispanics, or do they actually have to embrace a different kinds of immigration policies?

I think once Mitt Romney made the decision - and he did make a choice in the primaries to go hard right on immigration, talk about self deportation, which is something that he just could not erase in the minds of Hispanic voters, he made a choice that was hard to change in a general election. Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, not all Republican candidates decided to go in that direction.

So some people think the Republicans need to make a deal on immigration legislation that will be coming up next year, whether it's the DREAM Act or something more comprehensive. Other people think it's just the candidate. Once you have Marco Rubio, for instance, running for president, he'll be able to paint a different face - put a different face on the Republican Party for Hispanic voters.

BLOCK: You mentioned Marco Rubio from Florida. Are other rising stars within the Republican Party who might be leading this effort to make the party more inclusive bring in more Latino votes, for example?

LIASSON: Well, there are a lot of candidates for that. Marco Rubio is clearly the most prominent Hispanic elected official, and he will be a leader on immigration and all Hispanic issues for the Republicans. But Brian Sandoval, Susanna Martinez - two Southwestern governors - they're also considered to be rising stars.

BLOCK: Nevada and New Mexico.

LIASSON: Nevada and New Mexico. Also, you've got people who's - like Jeb Bush. He's not a Hispanic, but he's been a very prominent voice for an inclusive approach to immigration and Latinos in the Republican Party.

BLOCK: And on the Democrat side, what are they going to be doing to try to hold their advantage, both among Latinos and the other coalitions that kept President Obama in office?

LIASSON: Well, one of the most remarkable things about what happened last night was that the Democrats kept their coalition. And it is a majority coalition. They kept them even against all the headwinds. In other words, this was a bad economy, the euphoria and the novelty of 2008, the Obama campaign was gone, they still got their voters to the polls. They think they're just going to keep on doing the same thing. They're going to try to deliver on immigration reform. This is something that the president promised but failed to deliver on in his first term.

They also have the advantage of a lot of Hispanic voters are young. And these are voters who are going to the polls for the first time, the second time. They're getting their voting habits ingrained and, not unlike the Democrats in previous generations, created a coalition of immigrant groups. That's what the Democrats hope that they can do now.

BLOCK: And replicate the next time.

LIASSON: Yes. And they replicated it twice now. There's no reason to think that they can't continue to do that.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
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