Van Hollen Talks Strategy With CHC

Posted July 31, 2008 at 6:07pm

House Democratic campaign chief Chris Van Hollen (Md.) is seeking political help from Congressional Hispanic Caucus members as part of a broader effort to repair breaches between the party committee and ethnic minority caucuses that developed under his predecessor, now-House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.).

Van Hollen met with CHCers Wednesday morning at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to discuss ways to deploy the lawmakers to districts with significant Latino populations that the party views as potential pickup opportunities.

Attendees said the subtext was clear: Van Hollen is looking to soothe raw feelings left over from last cycle, when CHC and Congressional Black Caucus members griped that Emanuel didn’t ask for their strategic input or hire enough minority staffers but constantly hit them up for dues money. In 2005, CHC members refused to pay their DCCC dues until Emanuel hired a Hispanic staffer.

“We weren’t included in that process,” CHC Chairman Joe Baca (D-Calif.) said. “With Chris, he’s trying. It’s not just, ‘How can we win back the House?’ but ‘How can I be sensitive to the different issues that we have?’”

Added Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.): “I think we all commented that this was a very healthy departure from the past.”

Emanuel’s office declined to comment Thursday. Van Hollen brushed off suggestions that the effort was aimed at healing old wounds.

“We’re just focused on this cycle now and trying to move ahead and turn the page, and we’ve got the support of a number of caucuses,” he said.

The huddle focused on boosting a handful of Hispanic candidates and plugging CHCers into an evolving list of more than a dozen other races where the party is hoping a major Hispanic turnout will help Democrats unseat incumbents or win open-seat contests in GOP territory.

In a memo distributed at the meeting, Van Hollen pointed to Hispanic recruits that Democrats are investing in, including former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, challenging Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.); Miami-Dade County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Garcia, challenging Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.); businesswoman Annette Taddeo, challenging Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.); and New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner Ben Ray Lujan, running for the seat held by Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who is running for Senate.

Non-Hispanic candidates running in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Florida could also get a lift from CHC help, Van Hollen said.

“We’ve been working to engage all parts of our caucus to make sure we have a maximized effort in this campaign so we can beat that historical pattern we’ve talked about,” Van Hollen said. “To do that we need all members of our caucus participating, and the Hispanic Caucus is a big part of that strategy.”

The sit-down came a day after Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee announced a joint push to spend $20 million on outreach to Hispanic voters. Van Hollen said he has been in talks with top Obama adviser David Axelrod about coordinating the two efforts.

Hispanic lawmakers at the meeting said they discussed traveling to the targeted districts as surrogates, cutting radio and television ads, and pitching in with fundraising help. In return, they are seeking assurances from Van Hollen that the candidates they are supporting will not be hostile to the cause of comprehensive immigration reform, a top priority for the CHC.

“We want to help these folks, but we want to make sure they don’t vote against us on immigration,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said.

Other Democratic House Members at the meeting included Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Grace Napolitano (Calif.), Rubén Hinojosa (Texas) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), attendees said.

The meeting was the latest in a series of moves Van Hollen has made to smooth relations with the CHC and the CBC. Last month, he hired Steve Haro, a Hispanic aide to Becerra, to oversee Western races and serve as the committee’s Hispanic outreach director.

In consultation with the CBC, Van Hollen placed now-Rep. André Carson (Ind.) in the party’s “Red to Blue” program, which offers fundraising and other help to candidates running in red districts, even though Carson’s seat is reliably Democratic.

“That kind of gesture has been very helpful,” said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), a CBCer.

Van Hollen noted that the DCCC tapped senior black lawmakers for assistance in a pair of Southern special elections this spring, both of which Democrats won. And earlier this year, the committee launched an effort to re-evaluate its bookkeeping to give lawmakers credit for efforts beyond their paid dues — including district visits and outreach to local organizations. That came in response to complaints from CBC and CHC members that their dues burdens are harder to meet because they tend to represent poorer districts.

Van Hollen said House Democrats’ drive to focus on Hispanic voters includes a new requirement from the committee that candidates with significant Hispanic populations in their districts put together an outreach plan.

“We are working with the campaigns to make sure they put together those tools where they’ve got them,” he said. “We want to supplement their efforts. And if it’s an area where they need help, we’re providing help there.”