WASHINGTON -- If the GOP thinks they’re going to win more Hispanic voters in 2016, they appear to have decided that speaking at large gatherings of Latino leaders isn’t the way to go. None of the 2016 candidates will address the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza -- the largest Latino advocacy group -- being held next week in Kansas City, Missouri, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Republicans have long contended that winning Hispanics is key to winning the White House, as Latinos are the fastest growing constituency in the country. And President Barack Obama was able to secure his victory thanks to winning the Hispanic vote by a more than 36 point margin in 2008 and 44 point margin in 2012.
A La Raza spokesman told the WSJ that all of the 2016 hopefuls were invited and that none of the Republicans opted to attend. Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley both accepted the invitation to speak at a lunch event with the conference. And Bernie Sanders, who originally had a conflict, will also be in attendance. It seems unlikely all 17 declared and soon-to-be-declared GOP candidates had conflicts for the four-day conference.
La Raza is a network of community organizations -- almost 300 of them -- with a presence in 41 states, according to their website. This is the second Hispanic-targeted event that has had a noticeable lack of Republicans. Last month, only Ben Carson traveled to Las Vegas to speak to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. O’Malley, Clinton and Sanders spoke at that conference.
Conferences like these offer the candidates a powerful platform to spread their message. They are often populated by a room full of engaged and active citizens. People who show up for conferences are more likely to be community leaders, capable of carrying a positive impression about the candidate back home to other voters. And it’s an unfiltered opportunity to deliver a speech that speaks to a specific topic or group of voters. Candidates often use such conferences to roll out new policy or make an explicit appeal to a group of voters.
The GOP had made winning Hispanic voters a top priority for the 2016 campaign. In a post-mortem conducted by the party after the 2012 loss, winning more Hispanics was identified as a key target. Some within the party sought to take immigration off the debate table by enacting comprehensive reforms in Congress. It was seen as an opportunity to take a decisive issue out of the debate and clear the way to make the case to Hispanic voters on other fronts. But instead, the issue got bogged down and blocked by Republicans in the House. And it remains a ripe issue to divide Republicans and Democrats heading into the 2016 election.
And if Republicans had hoped to just remain mostly silent, Republican candidate Donald Trump isn’t making that easy on them. Trump set off a firestorm when he said in his announcement speech that Mexico is sending it worst people the United States, including criminals, rapists and drug dealers. Trump has stuck to his remarks, dragging the story out for weeks and provoking the rest of the GOP field to weigh in either supporting or criticizing the real estate mogul.