House

Republicans launch PAC to grow Hispanic conference

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) is seen after a closed-door House Republican conference meeting on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.
Greg Nash

House Republicans are expanding their Hispanic outreach ahead of the midterm elections, unveiling on Tuesday a political action committee designed both to protect incumbents and grow the Congressional Hispanic Conference.

The PAC, dubbed the Hispanic Leadership Trust, comes as several polls have hinted at a growing openness among Latino voters to electing Republicans, particularly amid stubbornly high inflation.

It also comes as the GOP has been trying to rebut accusations of harboring racist sentiment in the wake of a white nationalist shooter targeting Black Americans in Buffalo, N.Y., over the weekend, killing 10.

Several Republicans, including House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), have argued that Democrats are trying to “overthrow our current electorate” with undocumented immigrants, bordering on the racist replacement theory espoused by the accused Buffalo shooter. 

Republican leaders have vigorously denied enabling white supremacy and have flaunted initiatives to make the party more diverse. Stefanik began her remarks at a press conference announcing the PAC by calling for the Buffalo shooter to be prosecuted and saying that “it is not the time to politicize this tragedy.”

The initiative will be a counter to Democrats’ Bold PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). 

Bold PAC’s mission is to protect incumbents in the CHC, the nominally bipartisan but functionally Democratic grouping of congressional Hispanics, and to expand the group’s size.

Since the CHC and the Republican Congressional Hispanic Conference split in 2003, the Democratic group has swelled to 38 members, while the GOP one now has nine members, including Puerto Rico’s nonvoting resident commissioner, Jenniffer González-Colón.

Hispanic Conference Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), however, told The Hill that Republicans had not been looking at Bold PAC as a model, saying that the Hispanic Leadership Trust aims first to coordinate resources among Hispanic GOP candidates.

“There is a hunger to be able to help, you know, Republican Hispanics,” Diaz-Balart said. “This has almost come organically from people just saying, ‘We want to be helpful.’”

And the PAC is not necessarily targeting specific states, focusing instead on finding races in which Republicans can win and where there are Latino candidates who are dedicated.

“We’re gonna start with all 50 states and go from there,” said Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), who represents a district that borders Mexico. 

“The Hispanic Trust is only going to add to this. We’re not going to take anything away,” Gonzales said. “We’re not leading anything in particular — this is adding on to a machine that is already created.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that more than 103 Hispanic GOP candidates have filed to run for Congress so far.

Members mentioned some up-and-coming Hispanic Republican candidates running in districts that they hope to flip from Democratic control: Juan Ciscomani in Arizona’s 2nd District, where Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) is not seeking reelection; Mayra Flores in Texas’s 34th, from which Rep. Filemon Vela (D) resigned earlier this year; and Monica De La Cruz in Texas’s 15th, a toss-up race that is likely to be one of the more expensive in the country.

Flores joined the press conference and said that when she goes door-knocking, she meets people who say they have never met a Republican.

“My father was a Democrat all his life and said, ‘Why are you Republican?’ And I said to him, ‘Well, you raised me a Republican,’” Flores said.

While Hispanic voters have traditionally leaned Democratic, the split toward the left has never been as dramatic as it is among Black voters.

Former President George W. Bush famously netted more than 40 percent of voting Hispanics in his 2004 reelection bid, and the Republican base in some areas of the country is predominantly Hispanic.

Hispanic Democrats have long bemoaned their party’s late and relatively small investments in communities where they have the upperhand, particularly in purple states where relatively small Hispanic populations can tip the balance.

That means Republicans don’t need to win the Latino vote outright to blunt the Democrats’ relative advantage among the community.

Still, the GOP has a ways to go if it intends to make a national case.

According to an Axios-Ipsos-Telemundo poll of Hispanic voters conducted in March, 30 percent of Hispanics intend to vote for Democrats in the midterms, while only 17 percent intend to vote for Republicans.

Díaz-Balart, McCarthy, Stefanik and Gonzales all touched on inflation Tuesday, targeting an issue that’s quickly raced to the top of concerns for Latinos throughout the country.

But they also touched on issues of socialism — a concern that routinely polls high in Florida but not as much elsewhere — and McCarthy made references tying together border security and the fentanyl epidemic, a link that could turn off Hispanic voters wary of harsh GOP anti-immigrant rhetoric.

According to the poll, 35 percent of Hispanic voters believe the GOP is prejudiced against Hispanics, while only 8 percent believe the same of Democrats.

But the poll also found 24 percent of Latinos believe Republicans are better at handling economic issues, while only 19 percent favored Democrats on the economy.

Hispanic Republicans have so far avoided delving into racist rhetoric that sometimes surfaces in the party. Asked about accusations of GOP leadership enabling white supremacy, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) told The Hill that she loves “the American system where people can voice their opinions,” unlike the homeland of the largely Cuban community she represents.

Still, in the aftermath of the Buffalo shooting and previous racist attacks such as the 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart, Democrats are all but certain to campaign on the link between white nationalist violence and the Republican Party’s immigration rhetoric. 

“We don’t expect the GOP to seriously wrestle with how their dehumanizing rhetoric and mainstreaming of ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ ideas may contribute to violence, but we do expect decent people from across the political spectrum to stand up and denounce the dozens of GOP leaders who have stoked these dangerous and irresponsible conspiracy theories,” said Zachary Mueller, political director of America’s Voice, a progressive immigration advocacy group.

“There must be political accountability for those who put us all at risk by using their positions of elected power to spread racist and deadly lies. This must stop,” Mueller added.

In announcing the initiative, Republicans argued that GOP values surrounding family and skepticism of socialism are a natural fit for Hispanic voters.

“We are all Americans. I may just like guacamole a little bit more. I may like, you know, spicy food a little bit more. We’re all Americans, though,” Gonzales said.

But Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.), who fled Cuba as a child, noted that Hispanic Americans are not a monolith.

“I like guacamole, but I don’t like spicy food,” Gimenez said.

The Hispanic Leadership Trust will also focus on defending incumbents, Gonzales said. There are seven members of the GOP’s Congressional Hispanic Conference running for reelection.

Republicans need to gain just five seats to win back control of the House, and recruiting diverse candidates has been key to that strategy.

“As you all know, 2020 was dubbed the year of the Republican women,” said Stefanik, who runs a PAC that endorses female Republicans. “I believe that 2022 will be dubbed the year of the most diverse Republican Party ever, with a historic majority with women, veterans, Hispanic candidates, Asian American candidates, Black American candidates, all Republicans leading the way.”

Mychael Schnell contributed.

This story was updated at 7:40 p.m.

Tags 2022 2022 midterm elections 2022 midterms CHC Congressional Hispanic Caucus congressional hispanic caucus chc 2021 issues joaquin castro latino vote support Election 2022 Elise Stefanik Hispanic Leadership Trust Hispanic voters Hispanics Kevin McCarthy Latino vote Latino voters Mario Diaz-Balart Republican Congressional Hispanic Conference Tony Gonzales

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