Commentary: Candidates are wrong to ignore the Hispanics

SAN DIEGO -- You've probably heard that Republican presidential candidates have blown their chance with Hispanic voters because of their hard line on immigration and other hardheadedness.

SAN DIEGO -- You've probably heard that Republican presidential candidates have blown their chance with Hispanic voters because of their hard line on immigration and other hardheadedness.

Unfortunately, too much of the conversation has been about the effect of all this on the party -- about whether the GOP is condemning itself to years in the electoral wilderness by alienating an influential constituency.

All but one of the candidates -- John McCain -- refused to commit to a debate on Spanish-language television in September, forcing its cancellation. In June, all but one -- Duncan Hunter -- blew off an invitation to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Suddenly, the issue became whether Republicans respected Hispanics enough to ask for their support. That bothered Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez, who wrote the book "Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans Need Each Other." Sanchez is convinced the Hispanic vote is in play and that every candidate should fight for it.

Hispanics are big on respect, and the more they move up the ladder, the more they insist on it. So the very Hispanics who might be attracted to the GOP because of its economic policies are being turned off by its insensitivity to Hispanic issues.


A USA Today/Gallup poll found that Hispanics identify with Democrats by a margin of nearly 3-1.

One reason is that the Democratic front-runner -- Hillary Clinton -- is aggressively going after the Hispanic vote by racking up the endorsements of seemingly every Latino officeholder from East Los Angeles to the South Bronx.

Polls show Clinton earning about two-thirds of the Hispanic vote among Democrats and making up ground lost by the two previous Democratic nominees, John Kerry and Al Gore. Both flunked Hispanic Outreach 101 due to ignorance and arrogance.

You see something similar in John Edwards, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, who either don't realize they've lost the Hispanic vote or don't care.

Barack Obama is doing a bit better. He is trying to target younger Hispanics. But he discovered this constituency too late and Clinton is already on her way to cornering the market.

Then there is Bill Richardson, who made history by being the first Hispanic to run a credible campaign for the presidency but seems to be losing Hispanic support, perhaps because he is too preoccupied with trying to prove himself acceptable to non-Hispanics.

Among Republicans, Rudy Giuliani has morphed from a champion of immigrants into a Tom Tancredo impersonator. Giuliani even promised that he could end illegal immigration within three years by securing the borders and identifying every noncitizen in the United States. This city slicker doesn't understand the phenomenon he is facing.

Mitt Romney's sin isn't naivete but hypocrisy. This is the guy who spouts off about how immigrants should speak English and we should end bilingual education while his campaign sends out weekly dispatches to Hispanic journalists -- in Spanish.


Meanwhile, McCain has a history of appealing to Hispanics in Arizona and earned more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2004 U.S.

Senate re-election bid. The maverick stood his ground on immigration reform and took on the dishonest arguments of those who opposed it, such as the insistence that Americans would happily do the hardest and dirtiest jobs if the wages were right. McCain dared a roomful of angry union members in the Midwest to spend the summer picking lettuce in Yuma, Ariz., for $50 an hour, much more than the minimum wage most pickers earn. There were only a few takers, who apparently know little about picking lettuce and even less about Arizona summers.

Don't tell me that Hispanic voters don't have choices in this election. They do. And it's only by exercising them and spreading their support among members of both parties that they'll stay relevant and earn the respect they crave.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is .

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