- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hispanic voters like expansive federal spending, want to see an increase in the minimum wage, say the deficit should be solved by raising taxes and view tackling global warming as a major issue — but nearly half say they’re still open to voting for a Republican in next year’s elections, according to Latino activists and pollsters.

Despite looking a lot like base Democratic voters, Hispanics are increasingly skeptical of both parties, and are more likely to say they’re voting to advance the Latino community itself when they go to the polls, Tom Schaller, political director at polling firm Latino Decisions, said at a presentation on Hispanic voters hosted Tuesday by the National Council of La Raza.

The NCLR said it was trying to move the conversation surrounding Hispanic voters beyond just immigration, saying that in order to win their votes the political parties will have to embrace a broader set of policies including expanding Obamacare and other welfare programs such as food stamps, reforming criminal justice and sentencing, raising the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour, lowering debt for college students and doing more to help students in school learn to speak English.

“The better Latinos do as a community, the stronger the country is going to be,” said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, deputy vice president at the NCLR.

Hispanic activists face a challenge in trying to force elected lawmakers to focus on immigration, while also arguing that it’s not the only issue for them.

But at least for now, immigration is the top issue for Hispanics, who say it’s a threshold — if a candidate is unwilling to consider legalizing illegal immigrants, Latino voters tune them out no matter what the rest of their stances, Mr. Schaller said.

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That means Hispanics are closely tied to Democrats — and even if the GOP were to move toward a pro-legalization stance, the rest of the set of issues remains heavily Democratic-leaning.

Mr. Schaller tested support for Hillary Rodham Clinton twice: First around last year’s early November elections, and then later in the month, after President Obama announced his expanded deportation amnesty for illegal immigrants.

In the first poll, Mrs. Clinton earned about 65 percent of Hispanics’ support, but in the second poll, when asked how they’d feel if Mrs. Clinton embraced the president’s policies, her support shot up to 89 percent.

Ms. Martinez said those kinds of results show the immigration issue has changed for Hispanics — it’s no longer about supporting legalization, but being willing as presidential candidates to take unilateral steps, outside of congressional gridlock, to grant protections to as many illegal immigrants as possible.

“What we know is the vast majority of Latinos support executive action,” she said.

She also questioned Republicans’ hopes that offering Hispanic candidates, such as Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both of Cuban descent, will help win over Latino voters.

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She said the key is political stances, not identity, and she pointed to Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who also is Hispanic but, she said, who struggled to win Latino voters until he embraced a more moderate record.

Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Initiative, a Latino advocacy group with a libertarian bent, bristled at the NCLR’s assertion that conservatives stand in the way of Hispanics’ priorities, saying that was a “faulty assessment.”

Mr. Garza said Hispanic voters aren’t looking for government solutions as much as they want to see politicians promote conditions for economic growth.

“They’re looking for leadership,” Mr. Garza said. “I think they’re looking for somebody who’s going to advance policies generating an economic environment that spurs higher wages, generates more jobs.”

Mr. Garza also said the NCLR’s agenda placed most of the action at the feet of the federal government with calls for lower student debt, expanding Obamacare and imposing higher minimum wages or tighter workplace rules.

“Focus on a redistribution of knowledge and opportunity, not a redistribution of wealth and coercion,” Mr. Garza said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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