Reporting from San Diego — Although she has struggled to capture the support of Latinos in her race against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, Carly Fiorina said Tuesday that she was mounting an aggressive campaign to reach that key segment of voters before election day.
After a session with members of the Latino business community at a Cuban-Puerto Rican restaurant where she outlined her plans for tax cuts and creating jobs, Fiorina told reporters her campaign would make sure Latino voters "understand who I am" while making the case that Boxer is "no friend of the Latino community."
"We're building a lot of support in this community," she said.
But the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive has significant ground to make up among Latino voters, who make up a fifth of the state's electorate. Though she assembled a coalition, Amigos de Carly, months ago to draw Latino support, she trailed Boxer by 38 points among registered Latino voters in a recent Los Angeles Times/USC poll. In the governor's race, by contrast, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown led his Republican rival Meg Whitman among Latino voters by half that margin.
That disparity may be explained in part by Whitman's extensive Spanish-language advertising campaign, but also by the positions Fiorina has carved out on immigration issues. Unlike Whitman, Fiorina backed Arizona's controversial immigration law. She has also rebuffed questions about whether there should be a path to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., calling those questions an effort to change the subject from the federal government's responsibility to secure the border.
On Tuesday in San Diego, Fiorina brushed off the suggestion that her position on the Arizona law had eroded her support among Latinos.
"All of the Hispanics that I've spoken to understand the need for securing the border," she said. "They also understand the need to have a guest worker program that works, and a lot of them don't understand yet the positions that Barbara Boxer has taken."
Though Fiorina has revealed little about how she would approach immigration issues, she has sharply criticized Boxer for seeking to strip a proposed temporary worker program from federal immigration legislation in 2007 that ultimately collapsed in the Senate. The program would have allowed as many as 600,000 workers to seek employment in the U.S. for three two-year stints as long as they returned to their home country in between.
"These workers can come in and go anywhere," Boxer said in a speech on the Senate floor. "So it is a pool of cheap labor at the expense of the American workers."
Fiorina has sought to cast that remark as disparaging to immigrants. "She said immigrants are a source of cheap labor that threatens the American worker," Fiorina said Tuesday. "Now that is not what I believe, and that is not what you believe either, but Barbara Boxer was casting her vote for big labor, casting her vote against people who are trying to live the American dream."
Boxer's campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, responded that Boxer supports comprehensive immigration reform. Fiorina has said such efforts are a distraction.
"We would love Latinos to compare the records of the two candidates," Kapolczynski said.