Getting elected to a national office, especially the presidency, requires appealing across the various demographic groups. One critical group, Hispanics, is growing even more rapidly than expected. Hispanics were, of course, an important demographic in the 2008 election and the increase in numbers will make them even more significant in 2012.
Of course, it is important to note that there is no monolithic Hispanic block. To use an obvious example, Hispanics in South Florida whose families came from Cuba would tend to have different political views from Mexican-Americans in Texas. Also, individual Hispanics will be just as diverse in their views as anyone else. For example, my girlfriend (who is from Puerto Rico) is apolitical and would rather talk about statistics from her research than anything involving politics.
That said, politicians generally try to appeal to groups of people by trying to find issues that they think will resonate. For example, many politicians tend to associate Hispanics with immigration issues and hence often try to get points by taking a certain stance on immigration.
Democrats tend to assume that Hispanics will vote for Democrats. After all, the Democrats are presented as being more inclusive, as being more concerned about minority rights, as being more liberal about immigration, and as being more on the side of the working class. The Democrats have, in fact, often enjoyed the support of Hispanic voters. However, it would be an error on their part to assume that the rise in the American Hispanic population will lead to easy victories for them. One point of concern is that some Hispanic leaders believe that Obama and other Democrats have let them down and this could be held against them in future elections. Also, Hispanics are an increasingly diverse population and to assume that they will all be concerned about matters in a way favorable to Democrats would be an error. Republicans have often enjoyed considerable popularity among some groups of Hispanics and they can, with proper effort, expand their appeal.
Republicans certainly hope to tap into the pool of Hispanic voters. Given the size of the Hispanic population, this will be critical for national and many local elections. On the face of it, Republicans would seem to have a harder task ahead of them than the Democrats. Republicans are often cast as being less inclusive (rich, white and uptight), being largely unconcerned with minority rights, being harsh about immigration, and being more on the side of business. These factors have, in fact, made it somewhat harder for Republicans to reach out to Hispanics. One factor well worth considering is that the Republican party has a fringe element that comes across as racist against Hispanics, especially when talking about immigration.
However, Republicans are generally seen as stronger than Democrats when it comes to law & order, family values, economics, patriotism, defense and other such matters. They can play to these perceived strengths in winning over certain Hispanic voters, just as they do with other voters.
Overall, the take away is that Hispanics will be an ever more significant demographic in elections and the Democrats and Republicans will be working very hard to pander to Hispanics. I, for one, really hope to see Obama facing off with the Republican candidate in a contest involving tequila shots.