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Republicans announce $10-million initiative to lure Latino voters

The effort seeks to improve the party's appeal among Latinos in California and 16 other states. Unlike previous campaigns tied to election seasons, this one will be ongoing, officials say.

October 10, 2013|By Seema Mehta
  • Catholics from L.A. and Orange Counties march from St. Angela Merici Church in Brea to Republican Congressman Ed Royce's office in August to demonstrate support for immigration reform. Royce has taken a hard line on immigration.
Catholics from L.A. and Orange Counties march from St. Angela Merici Church… (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)

Republicans striving to mend relations with the Latino voters who have largely shunned their party announced a $10-million initiative Thursday to make electoral inroads among this crucial group across the nation.

Engaging Latino voters has been a constant effort for Republicans in recent years, as the population has grown to the point it can tilt races in critical states. But party leaders say the new initiative, which will include a paid staff and year-round voter targeting in California and 16 other states, is more meaningful than past attempts.

"What's different about our effort this time is we're starting early, not just six months before an election, and we're going to stay even after the election is over," Jennifer Sevilla Korn, the Republican National Committee's deputy political director for Hispanic initiatives, said at a luncheon in Santa Ana.

As scores of GOP activists and politicians, including former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, dined on roast beef and cheese enchiladas, Korn said, "This doesn't end with one candidate or one campaign. We're building a permanent grass-roots infrastructure that will expand every year."

But some Republicans say that such efforts are futile until the party changes its position on immigration reform.

"The message is going to be very difficult to convey unless we can demonstrate some seriousness about solving the broken immigration system," said Lanhee Chen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution who was Mitt Romney's policy director during the 2012 presidential campaign.

California Republicans have been trying to court Latino voters for years, particularly since many of them turned against the party after its push for a successful 1994 state ballot measure, Proposition 187, that curtailed taxpayer-funded services for people in the country illegally. (It was later declared unconstitutional.) But the campaign for Latino voters has taken on urgency among national GOP leaders since Romney's loss in November. Romney recently said his campaign's "largest strategic error" was not investing enough in reaching out to Latino voters.

As part of the effort announced Thursday, a state director has been hired, one of 12 jobs the party plans to fill in California, and an advisory council of elected officials and party activists has been created. In addition to attending Latino community events and naturalization ceremonies, the council will build a team to engage voters in person.

Republican Latino strategists, who have long complained about the party's absence from the Latino community, welcomed the development.

"The previous efforts of putting a party together and getting a mariachi and calling that voter engagement has not worked in the past, nor should it," said Hector Barajas, who advised Meg Whitman's unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial run. "The real emphasis has always got to be on door-to-door, making direct contact with voters, that hopefully we're beginning to see this time around."

Korn said part of the outreach would include challenging what she called Latinos' misperceptions about Republicans' role in the immigration debate, by highlighting Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's work to overhaul federal policies and President Obama's failure to pursue immigration reform during his first year in office as he had promised. (Obama did focus on that effort in 2012, however, and he won three-quarters of Latino voters in defeating Romney.)

"The truth isn't out there," Korn said.

California Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, the state chair of the advisory council, a post separate from that of state director, said state Republican legislators can point to their actions, such as calling on Congress members to create a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally. That effort has stalled in the Republican-controlled House.

In an interview, Chavez was pessimistic about its prospects, and cited the current government shutdown.

"If they can't even figure out how to pay their bills, how are they going to deal with something important like immigration reform?" he asked.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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