Supporting in-state college tuition for Florida's undocumented immigrants is "politically smart" for Gov. Rick Scott as he tries to hang onto his job against challenger Charlie Crist, Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Newsmax TV on Wednesday.
"He's got to tap into the 23 percent of Floridians who are Hispanic, and this is a way to open the door," O'Connell told "America's Forum" host John Bachman and Newsmax contributor Francesca Page.
"It is a little early to say" whether Scott's embrace of a position that plays well with Hispanic voters will, in turn, help Republican presidential candidates in 2016, O'Connell says. But he said that what is "a pragmatic policy" for one state could serve as a model for a GOP White House run.
"The only question is do you actually make the right outreach?" O'Connell said. "And at the end of the day, if Republicans want to win the White House in 2016, they're going to need Hispanics in the tent."
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O'Connell, author of "Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery,"
suggested the GOP will need to soften, or broaden, its conservative pitch to counter the built-in advantages enjoyed by, for example, the Democrats' highest-profile potential nominee: Hillary Clinton.
The would-be GOP contender best suited to the job? O'Connell said right now it's New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"The most talented Republican politician when it comes to stump speaking and connecting with people, unfortunately, is still Chris Christie of New Jersey," he said. "He has the innate ability to bring the very people in the tent — unmarried women, Hispanics, minorities — that you need if you want to win a presidential election."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky are potential 2016 nominees who are reaching out to new constituencies, said O'Connell. But none so far has demonstrated Christie's talent for making people feel welcome in the party.
"I understand that sometimes he comes off a little rough, but at the end of the day he's able to connect with people on a level that they understand," O'Connell said of Christie. "Remember, 'compassionate' does not mean the same thing in every single region of the country."
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