MIAMI (AP) — A Republican group that includes former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday kicks off its efforts to improve the party’s outreach to Hispanic voters, many of whom have criticized Republicans for using harsh rhetoric to attack illegal immigration.

The new Hispanic Action Network convenes for a two-day policy conference starting Thursday evening that will feature several high-ranking Republicans and focus on issues such as trade, immigration, media outreach and education.

The group is among a growing number of Republican organizations reaching out to Hispanics in advance of next year’s presidential election.

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, is backing the new group’s efforts.

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 to have any hope of capturing the presidency.

Democrats are confident their party’s efforts on health care, education and the economy will appeal to Hispanic voters, whom they believe have been turned off by some of the GOP tactics.

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 support for private school vouchers and lower taxes. Voters last year elected Latino Republicans to prominent posts, including Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

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

“It’s about more than running ads in the Spanish-language media,” said Bush, who speaks fluent Spanish. “It’s also about showing people you want them to be part of the effort, putting in the time even when people aren’t looking…it means using rhetoric that doesn’t turn people off.”

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a possible 2010 presidential candidate, announced a similar effort in Washington, D.C., last month with his Americanos group. The conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, also now has a Spanish Web site, Meanwhile, Alfonso Aguilar, former President George W. Bush’s first citizenship and immigration czar, now runs the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.

The former president, who is Jeb Bush’s brother, had a stronger and more successful Hispanic outreach program than almost any other national Republican.

Jeb Bush told The Associated Press on Tuesday “the more the merrier” as far as outreach programs go. Unlike Gingrich, he says, he has ruled out running for president in 2012.

As for potential Republican candidates for president in 2012, only former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is scheduled to speak at the conference.

But Republican groups have their work cut out for them following an election year in which Republican Senate candidate Sharon Angle of Nevada ran ads portraying illegal immigrants as thuggish gang members, and Hispanic voters overwhelmingly sided with Sen. Michael Bennet against Republican Ken Buck, a former county prosecutor who 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.

The House Republican leadership took a symbolic step toward bridging the gap with Latinos last week in bypassing Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa as the next chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration. King once suggested on the House floor that an electrified border fence would stop illegal immigrants, likening it to the practice used to corral livestock.

“Obviously there was a message sent with Steve King not being selected for chair,” Aguilar said. “But now the question is beyond ending harsh rhetoric: Will they actively propose a conservative proposal that goes beyond border control and domestic enforcement to a temporary work status.”

As president, George W. Bush unsuccessfully pushed for sweeping immigration reform. But so far, the only new Republican proposal on immigration has come from a group of state lawmakers who are hoping for a Supreme Court ruling that would end the granting of automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.

Simon Rosenberg, head of the liberal-leaning NDN organization, applauded the efforts of Republicans such as Jeb Bush to reach Latinos.

“It would be bad for the Latino community to only have one political party working with them,” he said.

But Rosenberg questioned the notion that Hispanics have more in common with conservatives than Democrats, noting that many Hispanics lack health insurance and will benefit from the Democrats’ recent health care overhaul.

He said the GOP needs more than improved outreach.

“There is a reactionary strain in the Republican Party that is angry about how the country is changing,” he added, referring to the effects of immigration. “We are moving toward a majority nonwhite country. That is very difficult for some people to accept. And those people tend to be more Republican.”

Bush and Gingrich support comprehensive immigration reform, but GOP leadership must still satisfy those who want to focus solely on border security, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who backs legislation modeled on Arizona’s law that requires immigrants to carry papers proving they are in the country legally and police officers to check the status of anyone they believe is in the country illegally. A judge has placed those provisions on hold pending hearings on their constitutionality.

Scott will be among the keynote speakers Thursday night at the conference in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables. Others include the co-chair, former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, as well as Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuno, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

Coleman said he’s proud of the diverse perspectives the conference will offer and hopes it leads to serious debate.

“So much of immigration is about tone,” he said. Coleman added that Florida’s Rubio and New Mexico’s Martinez talk about immigration and border security “but in a tone that is helpful and respectful.”

But neither Rubio nor Martinez will be at the conference, nor will newly elected Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, another Hispanic GOP star. Coleman said both Sandoval and Martinez have just begun their jobs and couldn’t get away. A spokesman for Rubio said the senator would be working on official business outside of South Florida but declined to provide details.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (14)
  1. american patriot says:

    Hispanics are no different to any other group: they will support a party that in turn supports, respects and listens to their concerns. That is why Republicans will never make any inroads with Hispanics as long as the hateful & racist poltics of the Tea Party are embraced by the GOP…hasta la vista, GOPers!

  2. V says:

    I agree…. Latinos will never support the anti-immigrant agenda that the republicans have… this past elections they said it out loud…. not with so many words, but they said…”We don’t care for your votes, we will not support anything that will help Latinos” so happy to day that unless you do what Latinos expect them to do… SEE YOU LATER…

  3. American mother says:

    How true. Hispanics aren’t going to go for Republicans continually degrading them as all illegals and make laws that allow police to stop them and check anyone who looks the “right” way.

  4. Ben K says:

    The GOP and Norm Coleman need to understand that the Hispanics will NEVER favor them. The Democrats give them too many handouts for them to switch sides. Let the Republicans focus on winning over the average American. No amnesty!

  5. StraycatStrut says:

    Wow… the American Patriot or American Parrot really spreads the hate here. Amazing….. and then whats so amazing is the such a division amoungst the partys with talk like that… that is parroted every day in liberal media….then they wonder why there are shootings from wackos. The President in election time wanted to bring the people together…. but has done everything to spread the gap. Cheers to the Tea Party and real Patriotism!!! Hispananics can do what they want here!! But we all should at least listen and try to make in-roads. Work together.

  6. Rafael S says:

    Well…as a Hispanic the Republican agenda fits with our overall values of religion and family however, as long as the Republican Party allows some of their members to characterize all of us a thives, drug sellers, illegals and the list goes on, no only will they not get the Hispanic vote, they also wont get the White House in 2012. Thats a sure bet.

  7. Kevin says:

    Close the border!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Al says:

    Isnt Norm buisy cleaning Frankins toielt?????

  9. mike says:

    hmmm. I didn’t realize the repubs and the tea party were against legal immigrants. I thought they were against people coming into our country and living off of the so called system that government has put in place to help the misfortunate. I would have to research where they have been calling Hispanics thieves, drug sellers, or the rest of the list. There are many races that would fit those terms.(White, black, hispanic, asian) I wonder too if they were writing a law that makes it legal to stop anyone just to see if they have the right to be in America legally. I don’t think thats true. I believe it was written to be able to ask questions of background if the person was stopped for a violation of some sort. What would possibly be wrong with that? I’m also sure that if you check it out you will find many Hispanics that go along with these ideas. Next time you see a tea party rally, take a few minutes and walk around and see for yourself that there is no racist propaganda in the signs or talking to the people. Unless you happen to be talking to one of your fellow bigots that was walking around the rally to see for themselves.

    1. Ignorance must be bliss says:

      SO mike, where have you been? “I wonder too if they were writing a law that makes it legal to stop anyone just to see if they have the right to be in America legally” have you not heard of what AZ is doing? Do republicans think before they get so defensive?

  10. mike says:

    SO I was under the impression that AZ law would allow law enforcement the opportunity to check someones US status if they were being detained for some other reason ( traffic laws , equiptment problems etc.) I believe the law never went into effect, but I still don’t see where this would be the wrong thing to do,considering the problems plaguing border states with illegals.

  11. Victim Du Jour says:

    Hispanics are not stupid, many of them don’t like Democrats either.

    Behind all the nerdy white liberal butt kissing is the other hidden agendas.

  12. June says:

    Why not reach out to AMERICANS? I am a little sick of the bowing and scraping to “:Latinos.” I just heard Carlos Guiterriez and Norm Coleman on TV, bleating about “comprehensive immigration” . That equals amnesty and we’ve at least eight over the years and all were promised to be the last. Now, we have more illegals than at any time and they’re trying it again. With the millions of unemployed Americans we not only have the invasion from the south, we have the State Dept. giving 51 countries some sort of approved status to send their people here to work. What is the matter with this country that they think diversity is anything more than suiciide for a nation as well as just a source of cheap labor that cuts out Americans? We need someone who thinks more of us than of filling this country with every third world person that can cram in. No one has appered yet. I pray they do before 2012.

    1. JJ says:

      FYI Latinos are Americans from Central America or South America and way before the British came to a continent Named AMERICA by a Spanish explorer C. Columbus.

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