Republicans contend with Trump factor among Hispanic voters

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points towards guests during an campaign event with employees at Trump National Doral, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points towards guests during an campaign event with employees at Trump National Doral, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

HIALEAH, Fla. (AP) — Berta Delgado told the Spanish-speaking conservative activists at her door that she is “100 por ciento” Republican, and agreed with their assessment that Democratic Senate candidate Patrick Murphy is too liberal. She said she’d vote for Sen. Marco Rubio.

That is, if she votes. Delgado said she’s so disgusted by the presidential race that she might stay home in bed on Election Day. A few blocks away in the same Cuban-American enclave, Ernesto Gil assured the activists that he, too, favors Rubio. But due to Donald Trump, he said, he’s not planning to vote for any other Republicans.

When it comes to connecting with and motivating Hispanic voters, GOP candidates across the country face an exceptional obstacle: their own presidential nominee. Trump’s harsh words about immigrants in the country illegally and his vows to deport them and build a border wall have turned off many of the estimated 27 million Latinos eligible to vote.

Democrats are playing the “Trump” card whenever and wherever they can.

The approach is evident from a review of Spanish-language television advertisements. Of more than 6,800 Democratic general election ads that had aired on broadcast stations by last week, about 70 percent featured Trump, an Associated Press analysis of Kantar Media’s political ad data found. The review covered commercials about races for the Senate, House and governor, by candidates and outside groups.

“Basically if you put the words ‘Donald Trump’ in an ad, it hurts Republicans,” said Juan Cuba, executive director of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

In Nevada, where more than one-quarter of the population is Hispanic, Democratic Senate hopeful Catherine Cortez Masto tethers her Republican opponent, Rep. Joe Heck, to the presidential nominee in a bonanza of Spanish-language TV ads about “Heck y Trump.” Many conclude, “no nos respetan,” which means, “they don’t respect us.”

Supporters of Democrat Patricio Moreno’s uphill bid to unseat Rep. Carlos Trujillo in a district that includes Doral, Florida, have tagged the Republican “Trumpillo.” And in a competitive Texas congressional race in a heavily Hispanic district, Republican Rep. Will Hurd has disavowed Trump and begun running ads saying he’d stand up to either Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump is a fixture of down-ballot debate nights.

Standing next to Rubio last week in Orlando, Murphy, a congressman, used Trump’s full name 16 times. He began one answer by saying, “Let’s just talk about Donald Trump again, right?” At the Nevada Senate debate, just after Heck denounced Trump for his videotaped boasts about forcing himself on women, Cortez Masto said Heck’s repudiation was too little, too late.

Why, she asked, was it acceptable for Trump to call Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals during his kickoff speech in June 2015?

Trump has vastly complicated the efforts of a party that knows it needs to do better with Hispanic voters.

Front and center among the findings of a Republican National Committee autopsy on why Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential race was a discussion about the importance of Latinos, whose backing dropped to 27 percent compared with the 44 percent who’d chosen President George W. Bush in 2004.

“There is no question that Republicans have failed miserably in the past at connecting with Latinos,” said Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Initiative. Funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, Libre tries to sell Latinos on conservative policies.

Like other Koch groups, Libre is not advocating for either presidential candidate this time.

Asked how Trump might complicate the community-building efforts of Libre and others, Garza said, “There’s no question that personalities matter. It’s difficult.”

That’s evident in Florida.

Rubio has awkwardly tried to dissociate himself from Trump, while saying he’ll still vote for him.

During the debate, Rubio directly dinged Murphy for a lack of engagement among the state’s Latino voters. Glossing over his own complicated history with an immigration overhaul, Rubio said Murphy only began reading up the issue after “consultants told him he needed to do better among Hispanics.”

Rubio was part of a core group working on immigration legislation that included a path to citizenship for those here illegally; he abandoned the effort as he geared up for a presidential bid.

Murphy didn’t hire a Hispanic outreach director until late September and does not speak Spanish. Rubio, a Cuban-American fluent in Spanish, is far better known among Latinos.

“There’s a history there, and it’s not just based on an election-time outreach,” said Ana Carbonell, a senior adviser to Rubio and political consultant on Latinos. “The Hispanic community in Florida is very diverse and complex, and even if you get all the briefs in the world, you can’t get up to speed in time.”

Rubio’s five different Spanish-language commercials had been broadcast 741 times as of last week, more than double what Murphy had on the air.

The senator frequently appears at community meetings with dignitaries from the homelands of Florida’s Latino voters. He follows South American struggles with the Zika virus, weighs in on the Puerto Rican debt crisis and has successfully pushed to keep in place economic sanctions on Venezuela.

That engagement is one of the messages the conservative door-knockers have been carrying into Hispanic neighborhoods of Florida.

The Kochs’ network of political and policy groups have more employees in Florida — about 165 — than anywhere else in the country. Many speak Spanish.

On a recent afternoon, Jairo Rivera, Miami-Dade field director for Americans for Prosperity, knocked on dozens of doors in Hialeah, striking up conversations in Spanish as he reminded Republican-leaning people to go vote — and not for the Democrat.

Street after street of single-story, barrel-tile-roof homes gave few clues about the coming elections; only one lone Clinton yard sign was in sight. Behind the doors, more people than not grumbled about Trump when asked by a reporter, though one man, Pedro Pena, proudly grabbed a “Hispanas for Trump” bumper sticker out of his pickup truck.

As for Ernesto Gil, he promised to vote for Rubio for the Senate but Clinton for president.

Better the devil you know, he said, than the devil you don’t.

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Follow Julie Bykowicz on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/Bykowicz