Has the GOP found a Latino Trojan Horse?

Could the Republican Party have stumbled over a small investment, grassroots strategy that could pay big dividends in 2016 and future national political campaigns? That’s…

voters in a voting place (Photo: Getty Images)

Could the Republican Party have stumbled over a small investment, grassroots strategy that could pay big dividends in 2016 and future national political campaigns?

That’s what former White House aide Ruben Barrales, the son of a bracero immigrant, and other GOP leaders are hoping they’ve done in implementing what originally appeared to be just another token effort to woo Latino voters.

But in the last two years, Barrales and his group, GROW Elect, have been behind a quiet revolution in California Latino politics, electing more than 90 Latino Republicans to local and state offices — and they now have their sights set on the rest of the Southwest and beyond.

SEE ALSO: The 2016 GOP field: No clear frontrunner, low support from Latinos

“What we’re trying to do with GROW Elect is create a party where Hispanics can see themselves — where they actually see themselves — not as a community that can be outreached to, but as voters and citizens that are included,” says Barrales, a George W. Bush administration veteran who has laid the groundwork in the Golden State.

It has been the GOP’s most successful campaign directed at Latino voters, say Republican strategists who are all the more impressed because Barrales did it on a threadbare $150,000 budget that has relied on volunteers and home office operations.

“The more you get Hispanic Republicans to talk to other Hispanics, the more you realize Hispanics are willing to vote for Republicans if given respect and being spoken to,” says Jennifer Korn, deputy political director for the Republican National Committee, who worked with Barrales on the ‘Viva Bush’ presidential campaigns.

Barrales, the first member of his family to graduate from college, went on to become a San Mateo County Supervisor and then president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, managing a big staff and a $4 million budget.

When he created GROW Elect it was with the idea of a less ideologically pure strategy that avoided dwelling on traditional conservative doctrine that is favored by some deep-pockets party loyalists but which often turns off Latinos.

Barrales says he also played to the notion that within political parties and the Latino community, there is a wide variety of opinion on key issues that should be considered.

It was all part of a quiet political revolution in traditionally Democratic Latino circles in California, and Barrales made sure to keep his organization low-key as it promoted the candidacies of Latino Republicans for city councils, county boards of supervisors and special districts.

“We started at the grass-roots level,” says Barrales, “because you can’t depend on superstars.”

Barrales believes that strategy is not altogether different than what has already been successful in Nevada and New Mexico where Republicans have elected Latino governors Brian Sandoval and Susana Martinez.

In California GOP leaders have been impressed enough to toss out Barrales’ name as a possible Republican Latino candidate in the 2016 U.S. Senate race to replace retiring Barbara Boxer.

With former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Mayor having decided not to enter that campaign, the field could be without a major Democratic Latino – providing an opening for a Republican Hispanic.

SEE ALSO: GOP English and Spanish responses to SOTU differ on one big issue

“We are all better served when there is a vigorous and real two party system,” says Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, the House Republican Whip. “I’m grateful for Ruben’s dedication to both empowering the Latino community and strengthening the GOP in California.”

Meanwhile, in California, Barrales continues working to revitalize the connection between Latinos and the state Republican Party, especially surrounding the issue of immigration.

“I understand people’s frustration with the lack of immigration reform,” he says, “and (we’re) doing something on the bigger picture.”