PHOENIX - Arizona Republicans say they don't need to change their stance on immigration or even their message to attract the Latino voters who largely defected last year.
Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, said the GOP already has the right message for Hispanics, who are a growing percentage of the state's voting-age population.
"We all want a decent education for our kids; we all want a good-paying job; we all want to live in peace and security," he said. Shooter said the party needs to "accentuate the positive and negate the negative."
Shooter acknowledged 71 percent of Latinos voted last time for Barack Obama, with the Republicans' stance on illegal immigration and a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people already here being a factor. But he said that's because people are confusing the issue of border security, on which he said the GOP has taken a strong stance, with immigration policy.
"They should be two separate issues," he said.
On Monday, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, unveiled the results of a postmortem of last year's race that found no one reason for the result but concluded at least part of what happened was the party's failure to reach minority voters.
The report recommends spending $10 million to attract minorities, particularly Hispanic voters.
But Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said the party already has a good message for the Latino community.
"What do people like? God? Family? Pro-life? Pro-traditional marriage?" he said. "Boy, that sounds a lot like our platform."
And Smith said Republicans should not spend too much time looking at other issues, like immigration, to chase the Latino vote because the Republican presidential race has never gotten more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, even after the immigration and amnesty plan approved under President Ronald Reagan.
But House Speaker Andy Tobin said Republicans cannot ignore the issue of immigration and simply rely on other planks in the platform to lure Latino voters.
"If we have an immigration crisis, we need to take a leadership role and say, 'Here's our solution,' " he said. Otherwise, Tobin said, Republicans look like they're just criticizing what Democrats have offered without providing a realistic alternative.
And Tobin said that has to include some way of giving legal status to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who already are here.
Gov. Jan Brewer called it "unfortunate" that the GOP has been unable to attract Hispanic voters in Arizona.
But Brewer, who has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration on border policy, said she's not willing to tone down her comments about what she says is an insecure border.
"I want to be part of the solution." But, she said, "I'm not going to abandon my principles either," when it comes to border security.
Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, the only Hispanic Republican in the Legislature, cautioned that attracting Latino votes is not a simple matter of the party suddenly coming around on immigration issues. He said that presumes Hispanics are a "one-issue community."
"If we label them as such, it could actually backfire," Montenegro said, with Hispanics seeing any move by the party to deal with illegal immigrants as Republican capitulation to pressure rather than proof that the party actually cares.
"We have to reach them on other levels," he said. And Montenegro said surveys show immigration polls fourth or fifth among most important issues, after issues such as economic development and job creation.