- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

DENVER (AP) - The chairman of the Republican National Committee came to Denver on Tuesday to tout Colorado as a model for how his party is reaching out to Hispanics and winning increasingly Hispanic districts without fully embracing an immigration overhaul.

Reince Priebus addressed a lunch of his party’s Hispanic Advisory Council at a Denver restaurant, saying the GOP has changed from a party that used to address Hispanics only for a couple of months in election years.

“One of the things we said we were going to do differently as a national party is we weren’t going to pack up after November,” Priebus told the group. “We’ve had some success in Colorado. We’ve shown that just by being in the community we can make a difference.”

Joining Priebus was Rep. Mike Coffman, who easily won re-election in his 20 percent Hispanic district in November. Once a supporter of more hard-line immigration measures, Coffman has shifted to the center and learned Spanish. He and his challenger — an Anglo Democrat who is fluent in Spanish — held a Spanish-language debate in October. After that debate, Coffman said, Hispanic wait-staff approached him at hotels and say he had won their vote.

“They saw that out of respect for the community that I had made the effort to reach out,” Coffman said.

But Coffman never embraced a sweeping immigration bill that would eventually provide citizenship to many of the 11 million in the country illegally, a key goal of Hispanic activists and an issue that a Republican National Committee report singled out as imperative to appealing to the growing Hispanic electorate. Democrats on Tuesday tried to remind voters of that.

“This is the same Republican Party that opposes increasing the minimum wage, opposes equal pay for equal work, and has for years blocked bipartisan immigration reform from seeing the floor of the House of Representatives,” Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio said in a statement. “The problem isn’t their messaging or outreach efforts, it’s the Republican Party platform and the issues they advocate.”

Priebus said Republicans agree on the need for a widespread change to the nation’s immigration laws, but “the question is: ‘What does immigration reform mean to you?’ ” That question, he said, will be hashed out in the party’s presidential primary.

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