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Republicans Make Push For Latino Vote

As the midterm elections approach, Republican groups are amping up efforts to wrest Latino votes from the Democrats.

Photo by Jill Replogle

The opening panel at the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. From left to right: Arturo Vargas, NALEO; Daniel Garza, The LIBRE Initiative; Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, University of Texas at Austin; and Cristóbal Alex, Latino Victory Project.

As campaigning picks up for the midterm elections this fall, political parties are renewing efforts to court the country’s second largest demographic — Latinos. Traditionally, more Latinos have leaned Democratic, but Republicans are ramping up their efforts to tug Latinos to the right.

The country’s largest association of Latino officials opened its annual conference in San Diego on Thursday with a lively discussion about the politics of the Latino electorate.

“Latinos have not rejected conservatives or Republican candidates because of what they believe, because of the principles,” said Daniel Garza, a former White House aide to President George W. Bush. “They’ve rejected them because there’s been an absence of this conversation about the virtues of the free market, about self-reliance, about hard work, about what makes American strong.”

Garza now heads The LIBRE Initiative, a political organization that promotes conservative values among Latinos. The initiative’s counterpart on the liberal side is the Latino Victory Project, an initiative launched by actress Eva Langoria to boost Democratic-leaning Latino candidates.

Cristóbal Alex, who heads the Latino Victory Project, also spoke at this week’s conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, or NALEO.

“The right has a different idea about values and principles and they know they can’t win with our community on those,” Alex said. “And so what they’re doing is they’re shaving the vote and they’re working to suppress Latino political power. And it’s the same reason they won’t pass immigration reform. They don’t want us to vote, I have to say that.”

Latinos have undeniably helped some Democrats get into office in recent national elections. But Republicans think a big part of this population is politically up for grabs.

Many Latino leaders on both sides of the political spectrum agree that getting their constituents to vote is a big challenge. Though the share of Latino voters continues to grow, it’s not growing nearly as fast as the population.

“Many people have lost faith in the political system,” Arturo Vargas, executive director of the NALEO Education Fund.

“They don’t believe the candidates and the campaigns when they come around and make promises because they don’t see changes in their lives. And what we have to explain to our community is that voting is a long-term process.”

NALEO is projecting that 7.8 percent of votes in the 2014 elections will be cast by Latinos. That would be a nearly 18 percent increase over 2010.

The group's conference continues through Saturday at Loews Coronado Bay Resort.

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