Wisconsin Public Radio

RNC Closed Hispanic Center in Milwaukee

Closed in 2022, hasn't reopened since. Republicans closing centers focused on minority voters across the U.S.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Mar 18th, 2024 11:16 am
This building on Milwaukee’s south side used to house the RNC’s Hispanic Community Center. Evan Casey/WPR

This building on Milwaukee’s south side used to house the RNC’s Hispanic Community Center. Evan Casey/WPR

It’s unclear whether a Milwaukee Hispanic community center opened nearly three years ago by the Republican National Committee will reopen after it shut its doors in 2022.

National reports surfaced last week that the RNC is closing similar centers focused on minority voters across the nation. The Associated Press reported that the committee has undergone a shakeup, with nearly 60 staff fired, including people who ran the community centers.

The closure of Milwaukee’s GOP-run Hispanic Community Center predated that shakeup. The center opened in September 2021, but reports circulated after the 2022 midterm elections that it had closed along with similar centers throughout the country.

Earlier this year, the Republican National Committee said it planned to reopen the center, and in a statement issued this week, RNC Chair Michael Whatley said the party would still organize in communities that are not traditionally Republican.

But RNC spokespersons did not respond to questions from WPR about whether Milwaukee’s center would reopen, and a visit to the building Friday revealed it was still shuttered. Nearby business owners said they haven’t seen any activity in the building recently.

The changes at the RNC come four months before the Republican National Convention is set to take place in Milwaukee, a move by Republicans to attempt to take back the swing state after President Joe Biden narrowly defeated former President Donald Trump in 2020. This year’s election is shaping up to be a rematch of that contest, as Trump officially secured the delegates needed for the GOP nomination this week.

Whatley’s statement said the committee is “currently evaluating every aspect of political and community engagement in order to align our operations with President Trump’s Campaign.”

“We have seen very positive impacts from our community engagement centers and intend to continue to utilize them to build support for President Trump and Republican Candidates across the country,” the statement said.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin opened its first field office in Milwaukee in February 2020 in a predominantly Black neighborhood of the city. The move at the time signified Milwaukee’s importance in the 2020 presidential election and the party’s desire to reach Black voters in a traditionally Democratic-leaning county.

Biden won Milwaukee County handily, beating Trump by more than 180,000 votes, according to the Milwaukee County Board of Canvassers. He won statewide by a much smaller margin, around 20,000 votes.

Milwaukee, Hispanic vote could be key in rematch of 2020

Wisconsin’s Hispanic Latino population increased by 7.6 percent in the last decade, making it the state’s largest minority group, according to 2020 Census data.

An estimated 36.2 million Hispanic voters are eligible to vote nationally, up from 32.3 million in 2020. Even as Trump made big gains among Latino voters in the 2020 election, around 59 percent of Latino voters cast votes for Biden that year, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

Marty Calderon, a pastor who has served Milwaukee’s predominantly Latino south side for several years, said Republicans need to be physically present in the neighborhood for them to establish a foothold there.

“If you want to reach areas that you normally cannot reach, you have to establish yourself in neighborhoods in areas where you’re not,” Calderon said. “Because how are you going to get the understanding of that particular area if you’re not there.”

“The most important thing is, get out into the neighborhoods, get out and meet the people where they’re at, because you’re not going to do it behind closed doors,” he added.

Darryl Morin, the president of Forward Latino, said he hasn’t heard any news of either party opening up a similar office in Milwaukee yet.

“As the campaigns progress, we’ll see who is willing to invest in the community and really come on out into the streets and try to earn our vote,” Morin said.

“It’ll be interesting who invests the time and the money to try and win the Latino vote,” Morin said.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the executive director of Voces de la Frontera, said she thinks the RNC outreach center should stay shut. Voces de la Frontera has historically aligned with Democrats.

Neumann-Ortiz believes when the GOP center opened, it wasn’t a “sincere effort” to reach out to Hispanic Latino voters in the community.

“I think it would be very good news if it’s shut down because I don’t think they (Republicans) have anything to offer to the Latino community,” Neuman-Ortiz said.

But Neumann-Ortiz said Biden needs to do more to pick up the Latino Hispanic vote in Milwaukee, as she said she’s discouraged by some of his policies on immigration.

“There has been great dissatisfaction with the Biden administration,” she said.

President Biden was in Milwaukee last week to announce new local and federal funding for transportation infrastructure projects. The visit was a series of campaign stops around the country where Biden is trying to bring a message to voters about his administration’s investment in infrastructure.

Trump is also on the campaign trail, but has yet to visit Wisconsin this year.

Listen to the WPR report

The RNC closed a Hispanic community center in Milwaukee in 2022. It’s still unclear if it will reopen. was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

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