White House Watch: RNC chair plans Hispanic outreach
Worried about perceptions that the Republican Party is turning against Hispanic immigrants, Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman plans to court Hispanic voters more than ever next year. Mehlman is concerned that some conservatives are going too far with their arguments that immigration is out of control and illegals should be sent home, which has resulted in promises by some Latino leaders of retribution against the GOP in the midterm elections next November.
"Mehlman is concerned that we might become the party of Tom Tancredo on this," says a GOP insider, referring to the Colorado Republican representative who has made immigration control a cause celebre. Mehlman reminds GOP strategists that the party suffered long-term damage among Latinos when Republican Gov. Pete Wilson pushed for enactment of California Proposition 187, which severely limited state services to illegal immigrants. To show that the party has a more inclusive side, Mehlman plans to expand his "Hispanic outreach" from the 22 events he held this year to a still-to-be-determined higher number.
In 2005, Mehlman's outreach included meetings with Hispanic business leaders in Las Vegas, with Hispanic Catholics in Miami, and with Latino activists and business executives in Santa Ana, Calif. His message: praise for the contributions immigrants have made to America over the years and calls for inclusion.
"We can be a nation of immigrants and be a nation of laws," Mehlman says. Complicating Mehlman's plans: House Republican legislation, which may be voted on this week, to tighten control of the borders and discourage hiring illegal immigrants. Mehlman, echoing the White House, wants congressional leaders to avoid passing such an "enforcement only" bill and also to offer the hope of legal employment.