- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Yali Nunez’s job would be difficult enough under normal circumstances, but as director of Hispanic media at the Republican National Committee with President Trump in office, she is facing unique challenges in selling her party’s message to Hispanics.

Ms. Nunez, though, said that message is valuable and Hispanic voters are ready to hear it. She also said Mr. Trump is the right man to deliver the message, reaching people no other president has been able to thanks to his massive online following.

“He’s definitely outspoken. We all know that, and I think we appreciate that fact,” she said. “We never had such a close reach or such a close connection with a president as we have with President Trump. Even through social media, with Twitter, we can now see what the president is thinking, and he’s thinking of the American people first, so I think that is a great resource,” Ms. Nunez said.

Sept. 15 marked the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, and the RNC is going all in with celebrations to try to convince wary voters in the community that the president understands them.

A social media and digital advertising campaign is aimed particularly at states with heavy Hispanic populations such as Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and Florida. Each is potentially in play for congressional races and the 2020 presidential campaign.

The RNC plans to release a video with Hispanic employees talking about their culture and how it melds with the party’s ideals.

Ms. Nunez says she can reach Hispanic voters in a personal, authentic way by telling her story of immigrating to the U.S.

She and her family fled Cuba when she was a teenager. They carried their possessions in backpacks and stopped in Honduras before coming to America.

Ms. Nunez, who attended the University of South Florida, is the first in her family to graduate from college.

A former sports reporter and news reporter, Ms. Nunez jumped from Univision, the country’s largest Spanish-language network, to work for Sen. Marco Rubio’s re-election campaign last year. She joined the RNC in June.

Regardless of her story, Democrats say, Mr. Trump doesn’t go over well with the voters she is tasked with reaching.

“It is not just laughable. There’s really no response in terms of what they’re trying to do,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist who served as spokeswoman at the Democratic National Committee in the early 2000s. “Right now I don’t think they can do anything that will credibly rehabilitate Trump’s image among Hispanics.”

In the near term, they say, Mr. Trump will hurt Republican candidates in next year’s congressional elections. Hispanic activists say their community will be pivotal.

The Latino Victory Project said Hispanic voters could even flip control of the U.S. House, where Republicans hold an overwhelming majority.

“It may turn out that Donald Trump may turn out to be the greatest Latino organizer of all time,” Cristobal Alex, the group’s president, told reporters. “We’re seeing a wave of enthusiasm that we think may make a difference in 2018 elections.”

He said Mr. Trump has opened competition for Democrats in states such as Arizona and Georgia, and he argued that Hispanics should be largely credited.

But groups have misjudged Hispanic voter influence before.

Democrats and immigrant rights activists predicted that Mr. Trump would win less than 20 percent of the Hispanic vote in last year’s election. They said his stance on building a wall along the Mexico border and stiffening immigration enforcement would poison his chances. Yet Mr. Trump won 28 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to updated exit polls — 1 percentage point more than 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney garnered. In 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain won 31 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Republicans say their opponents misunderstood Hispanics and pigeonholed them as single-issue voters who cared only about immigration politics. Republican Party operatives say Hispanics also care about the economy, health care, education and other policies.

“Our views and our policies apply to every single American. So first of all, we have to talk to them as what they are: Americans. But it doesn’t mean that we have a special message for Hispanics. It’s the same message but targeting them,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director at Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.

Ms. Nunez says the Trump White House has gone beyond hot-button issues, doing serious work on topics important to Hispanics. One example, she said, was Vice President Mike Pence’s trip this year through Latin America, visiting leaders in Colombia, Chile, Panama and Argentina.

“His trip was a way to share ideas for economic growth in each of those countries,” she said.

Democrats said the Republican sales pitch on those other issues will fall just as flat as Mr. Trump’s immigration plans. They noted the president’s recent call for a phaseout of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which granted a tentative deportation amnesty to illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors.

“The Trump administration represents everything Latinos fear: mass deportations, rescinding DACA, waste billions building a border wall, criminalize working families, take health care from Latinos, denying climate change, etc. The actions of the administration speak loud and clear to Latinos,” said Francisco Pelayo, director of Hispanic media at the Democratic National Committee.

Ms. Cardona said the RNC’s Hispanic outreach operation should “shutter their doors until Trump is out of office.”

The RNC’s outreach to Hispanics is part of a broad effort to increase its presence in midterm and off-year elections. Last week, the group announced a wave of hires of state directors, including in Nevada, Arizona and Florida, to begin building a presence for midterm elections next year.

“These hires represent the long-planned evolution of the RNC’s permanent data-driven field program that has been on the ground virtually uninterrupted in key states since 2013,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.

This is just the first phase as they try to expand on Mr. Trump’s successes in the Rust Belt and other areas where Republicans previously floundered.

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