GOP works to attract Hispanic vote

-A A +A
By Jay Miller

SANTA FE – OK, so here’s the latest national plan to woo Hispanics into the GOP. Showcasing Latino top officials such as Govs. Susana Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio didn’t help much in the 2012 elections.
So the latest plan is to create a super-PAC. Republicans are good at those. The idea isn’t to buy Hispanic votes. Hispanics are too honorable for that. It’s for buying congressional votes. That is usually pretty easy.
The biggest fear of moderate Republican members of Congress is getting “primaried” by the tea party and other right wing organizations. It happened in 2010 and 2012 and lists of Republicans who might stray from the fold already are being made for the 2014 GOP primary elections.
The new super-PAC, to be called Republicans for Immigration Reform, is intended to begin repairing the political damage left by years of anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric.
The organizers are former George W. Bush Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Washington lawyer Charlie Spies. Ironically, Spies was a co-founder of the pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC Restore our Future, which aired ads during this year’s GOP presidential primaries accusing some of Romney’s rivals of being too liberal on immigration.
Certainly not all Republican leaders have had such an epiphany. But the numbers can’t be ignored. George W. Bush received 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. John McCain’s Hispanic support was much less. And Romney’s number will end up somewhere in the 20 percent range.
President Ronald Reagan passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. George W. Bush tried and almost succeeded. Chances of such a bill passing now seem very remote.
One group likely to see merit in encouraging Republicans in Congress to support measures for comprehensive immigration reform is corporate America, which traditionally has supported loosening immigration restrictions in order to increase the labor market.
Corporations can be expected to contribute to the immigration super-PAC but the possibility of raising $142 million as Spies did for Romney’s PAC this year appear slim.
The intent of the super-PAC seemingly is to help smooth the way for wavering Republican lawmakers to vote next year for an immigration overhaul, according to the Washington Post.
Does that mean assuring wavering Republicans of financial support in the 2014 elections? Evidently it does because 2014 races reportedly already are being targeted.
With so much attention currently focused on the fiscal cliff being faced at the end of the year, immigration issues had fallen out of focus. But some Republican leaders have now are facing the reality that the Hispanic share of voters has risen from 4 percent to 10 percent in the past 20 years and that figure will continue to grow.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Third District Congressman Steve Pearce recently were interviewed by Michael Coleman of the Albuquerque Journal. They had ideas on the immigration issue too.
Gov. Martinez suggests that President Obama sit down with congressional Republicans who are interested in the issue and work out an agreement. Despite the difficulties Democrats and Republicans have had in negotiating a resolution to the fiscal cliff, Martinez thinks that the president might be surprised by Republican willingness to negotiate in good faith.
Rep. Pearce has a different approach. As with most elected officials anywhere on the U.S.-Mexican border, Pearce is well-aware of the real problems. Even though he is a staunch conservative, he understands that answers are not as simple as “build the fence higher.”
Pearce has long favored creating a guest worker program allowing immigrants to work here while still living in Mexico. He has managed to maintain about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote without compromising his principles.
His secret to attracting Hispanic votes is to work hard, show up at events and establish relationships. Pearce has told House Republican leaders that he would like to take the lead on immigration reform but has not heard back from them.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe.