Jeb Bush Guides Republican Outreach to Latinos

Laura Wides-Munoz, Comcast News, January 13, 2011

A Republican group that includes former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will use a conference Thursday to kick off its efforts to improve the party’s outreach to Hispanic voters, many of whom have been critical of some GOP candidates’ harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration.

The new Hispanic Action Network is part of a growing number of Republican organizations reaching out to Hispanics in advance of next year’s presidential election–and it has powerful support.

The group is backed by former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, whose American Action Network funneled more than $30 million in campaign funds to Republicans in about 30 congressional races last year.

Republicans don’t need to win a majority of Hispanic votes. But with the Latino population growing in swing states such as Nevada, Colorado and Florida, Republicans need to chip away at Hispanics’ overall 2-1 preference for Democrats.

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But Bush and other Republicans have long maintained their party is a natural fit for Hispanics, particularly recent immigrants. They cite the party’s social conservatism, anti-abortion stance and positions in support of private school vouchers and other school choice measures as well as lower taxes.

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Bush, who met his Mexican-born wife Columba when he taught English in her homeland, said the party needs to be more engaged in the Hispanic community and not just during election campaigns.

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Given his close ties to the Cuban-American community, his work on Latin American trade and his own Mexican-American children, Jeb Bush is widely viewed as one of the few Republicans who could capture a sizable Latino vote in a national race.

The Republican groups need to overcome several obstacles. The immigration rhetoric of some GOP candidates frequently overshadowed other issues during the 2010 election, such as when tea party-backed Republican Senate candidate Sharon Angle of Nevada ran ads portraying illegal immigrants as thuggish gang members. In Colorado, Democrat Michael Bennet narrowly won the Senate race last year after Latinos overwhelming backed him over Republican Ken Buck. Buck, a former county prosecutor, had tried to deport more illegal immigrants by seizing income-tax returns from accountants that catered to Spanish speakers. The plan was later thrown out by a court.

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“Jeb Bush represents the future of the Republican Party. But he doesn’t represent the present,” Rosenberg [Simon Rosenberg, head of the liberal-leaning NDN organization] said.

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