“Latinos are going to be playing a larger and larger role in the elections,” said Alexandra Franceschi, the RNC’s Hispanic press secretary. Franceschi’s position was created last summer as part of the committee’s increasing focus on Latinos.
Democrats in Congress are also courting Latinos. In a move to appease Hispanic voters, the Senate scheduled a test vote last week on the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to remain ambassador of El Salvador.
The Democratic National Committee has a counterpart to Franceschi — Ricardo Ramirez, who also is tasked with reaching out to Spanish-language media and its growing audience of eligible Hispanic voters.
Ramirez dismissed the Republican outreach efforts, saying the GOP is “on the wrong side of every single Latino voter priority.” Franceschi countered that the economy under Obama has disproportionately hurt Latinos, many of whom are working-class.
Republicans took a hit last week as Romney’s pledge to veto the DREAM Act sparked an outcry from Latino organizers. In the past, the bill that would give some illegal immigrants a path to legalization through college or military service has received bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
On a conference call with reporters Thursday, left-leaning groups said Hispanics feel alienated by Romney’s stance.
“It’s a story of a huge lurch to the right by a party that was once truly divided and had some leaders that stood up for common-sense immigration reform,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, which favors a comprehensive immigration overhaul.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said the former Massachusetts governor supports immigration, just not illegal immigration.
“We’re focusing on reaching out to all voters, including Latino voters, who have been affected by President Obama’s failed policies,” Williams said.
Sharry and his colleagues point out that Obama has also disappointed them by increasing deportations and not passing friendlier immigration laws.
“One party is beating up on Latinos because it’s the easy thing to do. The other is saying, ‘Well, where else are they going to go?’” said Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino, which works to get young people involved in elections.
In addition to registering voters, Voto Latino has organized Hispanics against Republican-backed ballot initiatives that tighten voter-identification requirements. Kumar said the laws disproportionately depress minority-voter turnout.
Doug Heye, former communications director for the RNC, said Republicans could get more Latinos on their side if they improved how they message such policy positions.
While many in the Republican presidential field have taken a hard line on immigration issues, Heye said those policies don’t necessarily alienate Hispanics.
“It’s about communicating our policies in a smart way,” he said. “If we don’t engage growing communities, we will eventually condemn ourselves.”
Clarification: Jan. 9, 2012
Although the New Organizing Institute is a left-leaning group, it is nonpartisan.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.