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Koch-Backed Conservative Group Seeks to Woo Latinos

Conservatives are making a bid for Hispanic voters, but Democrats such as Castro are skeptical. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A Koch brothers-backed group is making a new push to persuade Hispanics to vote for conservative candidates in the 2016 elections.  

As reported by The Washington Post, the LIBRE Initiative, started in 2011 and is based in Texas, is now active in nine states, and, after having a modest presence in the 2014 elections, aims to make a big play for the Latino vote next year. LIBRE plans to identify key congressional districts where it will drive conservative messaging through media appearances, advertising buys and community engagement events.  

The group will also target states where Latinos will be “a determinant force in the presidential election,” said Daniel Garza, the group’s executive director, though it won’t endorse particular candidates.  

Garza knows LIBRE is facing an uphill battle in 2016. President Barack Obama received 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012 and 67 percent in 2008. Still, he says Republicans are making progress.  

In Colorado, where Mitt Romney received 23 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner received 45 percent of the vote in 2014, Garza said.  

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, received 48 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2014, and in Georgia, Republican Sen. David Perdue received 42 percent of the Hispanic vote.  

“It is a vote that is up for grabs,” Garza said. “2014 proved that.”  

Democratic strategists aren’t convinced.  

“I think Republicans will get a third of the Hispanic vote, potentially,” said Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of the progressive advocacy group New Democrat Network. “The current agenda of the Republican Party is more hostile toward Hispanic immigrants than ever before.”  

LIBRE officials are aware of the need to improve the GOP’s image with Latinos. Though it advocates conservative policies such as smaller government, free markets and school choice, the group aligns more with Democrats on immigration, supporting a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants.  

“I think the biggest challenge has been that it has been a one-sided conversation for far too long. This is the fault of the conservative movement,” Garza said. “The Democratic Party, to their credit, has been reaching out for decades and have poured money into minority communities.”  

In recent years, LIBRE has been making efforts to engage with Hispanic communities. The group has provided services such as drivers licensing exams, financial literacy classes and tax filing assistance. This year, the group will launch a high school GED initiative where they will offer Hispanic residents free online classes and pay for participants’ GED exams.  

Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, a rising star in the Democratic Party and a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said while LIBRE may have an impact, he doesn’t believe its concern for the Hispanic community is genuine.  

“[It is] a Koch-Republican effort to shave off a portion of the Hispanic vote,” Castro said. “The question for Democrats is what are we going to do to counter that?”  

Related: GOP Poll: Republican Brand Tarnished Among Hispanics Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.