News Analysis: Rubio underscores GOP shift with Spanish-language national speech

2013-02-13 07:45:46 GMT2013-02-13 15:45:46(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- In a historical first, U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio Tuesday night addressed the nation in both English and Spanish in a televised speech aimed at recruiting the crucial Hispanic voting block.

Rubio, a Cuban-American regarded as a rising GOP star, delivered the official Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, pre-taping the Spanish-language version so it could run on Spanish-language television stations while he gave the English version on English-language networks.

The move came just months after the GOP lost 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in last November's presidential election, which prompted U.S. Republicans to begin reshaping their image from the party of old, white men to one more in tune with an increasingly multi-cultural America.

In the English version of his speech, Rubio, a top contender for the 2016 presidential race, couched traditional Republican ideology in the context of helping the middle class in a bid to cast off the image of the GOP as the party that only protects the wealthy.

"Mr. President, I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors," he said.

The speech came a week after House majority leader Eric Cantor made an overture to Hispanic voters, calling for a path toward citizenship for undocumented workers whose parents brought them to the United States as minors.

The statement demonstrated an obvious departure from the stance of former presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who vowed that if elected, he would veto Dream Act legislation, a bill that grants legal status to illegal migrants brought to the United States by their parents as minors.

"Senator Rubio is an excellent choice to give the Republican response because he is Latino and speaks Spanish," said Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West of the first-ever Spanish response to a State of the Union address.

"Giving Rubio a big national platform is a great first step for the Republican party, but it needs to follow up this step by moderating its policy stances on issues of concern to the Latino community, such as immigration reform," he said, adding that Republicans have to make meaningful changes to have a shot at reclaiming support from Latinos.

Indeed, immigration is one issue analysts say Republicans want to get behind them in a bid to start making inroads with Latino voters.

Obama's November re-election sparked a period of soul searching among the fractured Republican party, with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal calling on the GOP to stop being "the stupid party," referring to incendiary remarks by former Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, which embarrassed Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney.

The United States is undergoing a major demographic shift as minority births last year for the first time surpassed those of whites. In order to survive and thrive, the GOP knows it must do more to reach out to groups not typically associated with it, analysts said.

Ironically, many of the party's rising stars are minorities - Jindal is of Indian decent and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who spoke at the party's National Convention last August, is Mexican-American. But critics say the GOP has done a poor job of getting its message out to minority voters.

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