MILWAUKEE — In Lincoln Village, it’s more common to be greeted in Spanish than English and to see Mexican or Puerto Rican flags flying alongside the stars and stripes.
The main road in this Hispanic neighborhood on the city’s south side is dotted with businesses such as Sonia’s Party Plus Shop and the Hispanic travel center. But, across the street from La Flor De Trigo Bakery is a new neighbor: a “community center” run by the Republican National Committee.
The center’s facade resembles a run-of-the-mill political office space but this GOP outpost is all about location. The Lincoln Village community center is the leading edge of Republicans’ efforts to expand gains made with Hispanic voters in the past decade.
Visitors who come into the office are introduced to conservative values and GOP priorities, including leaflets in Spanish about local political candidates and national issues.
“Nobody’s happy with the economy,” said Ms. Diaz, 46. “Gas prices are through the roof. The whole open borders thing is terrible. There’s not that much attention on it in Wisconsin because we’re not Texas, but it’s horrible. Having all these people come in, they need to abide by the laws and rules.”
The center offers information on how to vote, as well as candidate lists for local and federal elections. They also give away Spanish-language copies of the Constitution.
One large leaflet was double-sided with English and Spanish text explaining the party‘s stance on limited government, school choice, personal health care decisions and defending capitalism.
Another pamphlet explains the tenets of critical race theory and lists public figures who advocate against incorporating it in school curriculums.
Across the street at La Flor De Trigo Bakery, the owner, who only gave her name as Eva, said she’s a Republican because she feels the party is more pro-business.
She also allowed the GOP community center to promote its events and display literature in her bakery.
“I think it’s important to help each other in the community, so I let them share their events here,” she said. “I do agree more with the party‘s values.”
Marty Calderon, 50, who also volunteers at the center, said it’s refreshing to see outreach from the GOP. He said having the office in the heart of Milwaukee‘s south side is a strong way to connect with their targeted voting bloc.
“The outreach that the Republican Party is doing right now is huge because that was not done a lot in the past. We’ve seen the Democrats do a lot of that, but now there’s a push for the Republican Party to start doing that … you got to get out into the community,” Mr. Calderon said.
Republicans have stepped up their minority outreach efforts, after gains made in recent election cycles, particularly among the Hispanic community.
Some Hispanic voters are just breaking away from the Democratic Party without going all in with the GOP.
Jesus Nieves, who is a Puerto Rican living in Milwaukee, said he switched from being a Democrat to an independent because he was tired of being put in a box that all Hispanic voters should support the Democratic Party.
“I just kind of believed the propaganda that we should all be Democrats,” said Mr. Nieves, 55. “I’m an individual, and don’t want to be classified under one notion. It’s just like saying African Americans are all Democrats, and that’s just not true.”
Despite losing the 2020 election, former President Donald Trump enjoyed increased support from Hispanic voters. In 2021, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a political newcomer, helped secure his victory with the help of Hispanic voters.
A recent Quinnipiac poll also found President Biden’s approval rating among Hispanic voters sank to just 26%, according to a survey conducted in early April.
The poll surveyed 1,412 U.S. adults nationwide and had an error margin of +/- 2.6%.
The RNC opened several community centers across the country to court Hispanic, Black, Asian American and American Indian voters.
The party has community centers in Black neighborhoods in Cleveland and College Park, Georgia and Hispanic-catered centers in Miami and the Texas cities of Houston, Laredo, McAllen and San Antonio.
Asian American centers are located in Dallas, Orange County, California, and Gwinnett County, Georgia.
The RNC also opened offices tailored to Indian Americans in Dallas and American Indians in Robeson County, North Carolina.
In addition to promoting information about the party, the centers also hold events such as movie nights, holiday parties and talks with officeholders and political candidates.
The Biden administration pledged early on that they would be a pro-immigrant White House, and do more to ensure Hispanic people are represented at the top levels of government.
President Biden promised to invest in the Hispanic community’s economic mobility, tackle racial health and education disparities and combat hate crimes.
Last year, he pledged to UnidosUS, the country’s largest Hispanic advocacy group, that his administration would continue to fight for citizenship pathways for immigrants who are in the country illegally.
“Until we secure that pathway for Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers, and all those who contribute to our nation every single day, from fixing our immigration system to creating jobs to raising wages to protecting the sacred right to vote, my administration will always have your back,” Mr. Biden said.
Ronnie Lucero, chair of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly which has a Wisconsin chapter, said he disagreed with the administration‘s approach to immigration — an issue he says has divided Hispanic Americans.
“We reject illegal immigration in a big way,” Mr. Lucero said. “We’ve been affected very heavily by Democratic policies. I understand Biden’s only been in office for a year and four months, but he has not taken steps to actually bring the Hispanic community together.”
In addition to the RNC, the GOP’s Senate campaign arm has also been scrambling to court Wisconsin’s Hispanic voters ahead of November.
Earlier this month, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the state’s GOP launched “Operacion Vamos!,” a seven-figure outreach effort to spread the party’s message to Hispanic voters.
In Wisconsin, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is facing reelection with Democrats making him a top target. A heavy dose of money from outside liberal groups is pouring into the state to help defeat him.
Despite Republicans’ gains with Hispanic voters, the majority overwhelmingly tend to vote Democratic.
Sonia Florentine, the owner of Sonia’s Party Plus who is a Democrat, said she wasn’t impressed with the GOP community center. She said they haven’t reached out to her, even though she is a block away.
Rep. Gwen Moore, Wisconsin Democrat who represents Milwaukee, said the biggest challenge she’s seen with Hispanics in her district is getting them to participate in elections at all.
Ms. Moore also said the Republican Party is focusing its efforts too much on Cuban Americans over Mexican or Puerto Rican voters, who heavily reside in her city.
“I don’t necessarily think Republicans in this state have a lock on Hispanics in Wisconsin,” Ms. Moore said in an interview. “I think that the Republican Party has spent all their energy catering to Cubans in Florida and vested their stake in the [Sen.] Marco Rubios of the world.”
• Mica Soellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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