(CBS NEWS) - Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., delivered a stark demographic warning to his party on Saturday, predicting that Texas – a sizable electoral prize that Republicans cannot afford to lose in national elections – may tilt Democratic within 10 years if the GOP doesn't broaden its appeal.
"What I do believe is Texas is going to be a Democrat state within 10 years if we don't change," Paul told the Harris County Republican Party on Saturday,according to Politico. "That means we evolve, it doesn't mean we give up on what we believe in, but it means we have to be a welcoming party."
Paul's pitch to Texas Republicans focused largely on the party's appeal among Hispanic Americans, who have trended strongly Democratic in recent elections. He acknowledged that immigration reform, a top priority for many Hispanic political leaders, is a "touchy" subject for Republicans. But he counseled the GOP not to shy away from the debate, though it may expose intra-party divisions.
"We won't all agree on it," he said. "But I'll tell you, what I will say and what I'll continue to say, and it's not an exact policy prescription … but if you want to work and you want a job and you want to be part of America, we'll find a place for you."
"Doesn't mean I don't believe in securing the border first, doesn't mean I don't believe it's important we have a secure country," he added. "But it does mean we have to have a different attitude."
The response from the activists and party officials in the room was "kind of tepid," Paul remarked.
For much of 2013, the Kentucky Republican, who is mulling a 2016 presidential bid, waged a public campaign to expand the GOP's support among constituencies that have typically been averse to backing Republicans. Last April, he delivered amuch-publicized speech at historically black Howard University in April, and in December, he helped open a Republican political office in deep-blue Detroit.
Paul's warning about the need to broaden the GOP tent echoed Republican operatives and leaders who have warned for years that the party risks continued losses at the presidential level if they do not adapt to America's changing demographic profile.
Still, it's not clear just how quickly the growing clout of minority voters could loosen the GOP's grip on Texas. Hispanic voters in the state do lean Democratic, for example, but not as heavily as Hispanics nationwide. According to a Gallup poll released Friday, Hispanic Texans side with Democrats 46 to 27 percent – a sizable 19-point gap, but smaller than the 30-point average in other states. And white voters in Texas are more Republican than white voters nationwide: 62 percent of white Texans affiliate with the GOP, and that number is only 48 percent nationally.
"What makes Texas harder today for Democrats than some other high-growth, demographically changing states in the west and south is that Democrats in Texas get a very, very low share of the white vote," explained CBS News Elections Director Anthony Salvanto.
Moreover, Salvanto observed, where the Hispanic vote in Texas is concerned, "One cannot just assign it all to the Democrats. In Texas, Republicans can do at least a little better than they do nationally."
Gallup's figures were based on a survey of 178,527 adults nationwide throughout 2013, including 16,028 Hispanics nationwide and 2,536 Hispanic Texans. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus one percent.