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Fiorina town hall reaches out to Latinos

The Republican launches a Spanish-language website, but her support for Arizona's anti-illegal immigrant law could pose a challenge.

June 27, 2010|By Shane Goldmacher, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sacramento — Reaching out to a key voting bloc, Republican Senate nominee Carly Fiorina held a Latino-themed town hall Saturday afternoon in Sacramento, heaping praise on California's Latino community for representing "the best of who this nation is."

Fiorina campaign: In an article in Sunday's California section about U.S. Senate Republican nominee Carly Fiorina, Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco was mistakenly identified as the chairman of Fiorina's Latino outreach efforts. The chairman of those efforts is former Assemblyman Bob Pacheco (R-Walnut). —

"Bienvenidos," Fiorina beamed to the crowd of less than 20, who were nearly matched in size by her staff in a downtown Mexican eatery.

The event, paired with Fiorina's launch of a new Spanish-language website, Amigos de Carly, is part of an ethnic outreach tour for the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive in her bid to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Last weekend, Fiorina took a spin through a predominantly African American Juneteenth festival in South Los Angeles. The moves represent a sharp shift in rhetorical emphasis, though not policy positions, after a GOP primary in which Fiorina hewed to the political right.

On Saturday, she laced her stump speech with anecdotes that recount her ascent from secretary to chief executive – "the American dream," as she put it — with new references. "The Latino community is a foundation for the American dream going forward," she said.

Fiorina's direct appeal to Latinos follows in the footsteps of her GOP counterpart in the governor's race, former EBay chief Meg Whitman, who began advertising on Spanish-language TV stations during the World Cup. Most political analysts believe that any statewide Republican must garner a substantial chunk, perhaps one-third, of the Latino vote to win in November.

"The Latino community is big, and therefore it's important," Fiorina said.

But Fiorina faces one barrier Whitman does not: her support for the new anti-illegal immigrant law in Arizona. She made no mention of it during the town hall, but told reporters afterward, "I do support the law, and I think it was a tragedy the law was necessary."

Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco, the chairman of Fiorina's Latino-outreach efforts who attended the town hall, seemed to acknowledge that the Arizona law could be an albatross. But, he said, "it's better to be firm on your position, know where you stand than be wishy-washy."

Boxer called the law "divisive" in Los Angeles on Friday. "In the Latino community there is tremendous opposition to it," she said.

State Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), a leading Latino legislator, said the GOP overtures to Latino voters demonstrated their power. "What a dramatic change from the time period of Proposition 187, when you could simply openly attack the Latino community and there wouldn't be a political consequence to that," he said, referring to the 1994 initiative that sought to cut public services to illegal immigrants.

Cedillo, a liberal, said Latinos tend to be socially conservative and distrustful of government and, therefore, are "poised to be Republicans." But with Republicans' anti-immigrant rhetoric in the recent primary, he said, they "may have dug themselves in a hole that's too difficult to dig out of."

One issue Fiorina is seeking to exploit among Latinos is the fallout from environmental restrictions. Water deliveries have been severely cut to Central Valley farmlands by the federal Endangered Species Act, which protects the Delta smelt, a small fish. Fiorina wants to carve out an exemption to the landmark environmental law to increase the water flow; Boxer does not.

"Tens of thousands of Latinos lost their jobs," Fiorina said of the effect of the water cutbacks, one of several times she mentioned the issue. "Fish are not more important than families."

She pledged that working to overturn the limits would be the "first thing I will do," if elected.

The Fiorina event ended much the same way it began: in Spanish.

"Muchas gracias," she concluded, to applause.

Times staff writer Maeve Reston contributed to this report.

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