New Heritage Foundation head seeks re-connect with lost constituents

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 11:43 p.m.

The incoming president of The Heritage Foundation said it's naïve for Republicans to think they'll win over Hispanic voters by softening their stance on illegal immigration.

Former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who will head the conservative Washington-based think tank, said he intends to focus on finding winning messages for conservative policies, rather than trying to carve out the unpopular portions of those policies.

“We have to do a better job taking these ideas to the American people,” DeMint said Tuesday in an interview with Tribune-Review editors and reporters.

DeMint will succeed Edwin J. Feulner, president of the foundation since 1977, on April 3.

“How do we take these ideas that we know work, and that we will absolutely insist on the integrity of, but how do we take them and bring them to fruition, really, inside by using more effective force from the outside?” Feulner asked.

Tribune-Review owner Dick Scaife is a member of The Heritage Foundation's board of directors.

DeMint, who founded a marketing firm in South Carolina before his election to Congress, said he plans to meet with constituencies with whom Republican candidates performed poorly.

“Part of what we're doing is going to a bunch of cities. We'll start next week in Raleigh (with) a lot of roundtable discussions, informal discussions with black pastors, Hispanic pastors, women, students. We'll be in universities ­— just talking to people, not trying to sell them on a political idea but trying to understand what they care about,” DeMint said.

Democrats say the problem isn't the pitch; it's what Republicans are pitching.

“They have said nothing and proposed nothing that addresses the concerns of the Latino community, the African-American community, seniors, women,” said Jim Burn, chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

President Obama won 71 percent of Hispanic voters, compared with 27 percent for Republican Mitt Romney, according to the Pew Research Center.

Republicans “offended practically every demographic group last year that wasn't middle-aged and white, and the results of the election reflect that,” Burn said.

The Republican National Committee, in a recent report examining the party's 2012 election losses, said “among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond must be to embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. ”

DeMint linked the loss to the Obama campaign's registration drives and outreach in Hispanic communities.

“It's very naïve for Republicans to think we're going to pass some amnesty bill and we're going to win the votes. That isn't going to happen,” he said. “But what is going to happen is the way we speak, the tone we use.

“We need to make sure that every American knows, as conservatives, that we love them as fellow Americans, we want them all to succeed, and we need to show up in their communities.”

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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